Allison's Book Bag

Otherwise by Farley Mowat

Posted on: January 6, 2016

Otherwise describes the childhood, wartime service, and the travels to the North that shaped the heart of Farley Mowat. It is the second of three memoirs by the beloved Canadian writer and activist. Portions of Mowat’s other books can be found in Otherwise, which might turn off some readers, but for me enhanced my enjoyment of an intimate and revealing autobiography.

Each time I reread Otherwise, what strikes me most is the transformation of Mowat from a scientist to an activist. By the time Mowat reached his teens, he had caught the attention of a great-uncle, who was considered one of Canada’s leading scientists because of his huge and varied collection of animal species. His uncle offered to take Mowat on an expedition to Hudson Bay to collect the eggs of arctic birds, where Mowat’s duties would require him to find every nest he could. If he couldn’t identify the mother, he was to shoot her and bring her back with the eggs. At the time, Mowat didn’t feel any reason to question his famous relative and so felt “no qualms of conscience”. As Mowat matured, however, he began to feel torn between his desire to become a scientist and his love for wildlife. After returning from wartime service, as part of his attempts to find his place again in society, Mowat embarked on an expedition to study birds. He notes his growing reluctance to arm himself with guns and ammunition, while also recognizing that the demands of science would require him to substantiate his studies with skins. Yet in his journal, he would write: “Do I really want to spend the foreseeable future killing every interesting animal that comes my way … what a bloody, messy, dreary way to spend one’s life.”

When reading a memoir as rich as Otherwise, one is bound to discover new details upon each encounter. Myself being no exception, As I re-immersed myself in Otherwise this past holiday break, what struck me most was how wartime service impacted Mowat. In 1939, he and his friends were gearing up for yet another nature expedition. Just a few months later, like many young people of his age at the time, Mowat was instead standing in line to apply to serve his country. When that war ended, Mowat was thrown into a season of discontent. Receiving a job as a tech, he focused on collecting war weapons. For a time, those weapons fascinated him more than the natural world and kept him preoccupied more than scribbling in his journal. When this job ended, he retreated to his bedroom, until pushed out of the nest by his parents. After some floundering, Mowat returned his first love of nature expeditions but, initially, even here he found no solace. Nothing was has it had been. War had left its scars on even the former paradise of Saskatchewan. Not until Mowat discovered the Barren Lands, and the People of the Deer, did the effects of wartime service began to lose their hold. In the Barren Lands, Mowat found a new future, one that would forever shape him.

Because I have both a love of animals and of writing, Otherwise remains one of my favorite memoirs.  Having aspired during my childhood to become a naturalist, I find it of interest to read about someone who pursued that field. To undertake expeditions, Mowat often had to find his own funds, a fact that surprised me. In addition, due to his growing distaste for killing animals, he eventually had to walk to a different drum than the norm. Although Mowat has often been in the center of controversy, I admire his passion and his willingness to speak up for what he believed. Since adulthood, I’ve taken steps towards achieving my dream of becoming a writer. Again, I find it of interest to read about someone who could use his voice to impact people’s beliefs. Mowat remains one of my favorite authors.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

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2 Responses to "Otherwise by Farley Mowat"

Sounds like a fascinating read.

Have a fabulous day Allison. ☺

Yes, it is! I’m eager to read Mowat’s other memoirs too. 🙂

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