Thursday, August 9, 2018

Review: A Handful of Happiness by Massimo Vacchetta and Antonella Tomaselli

My daughter and several of her friends decided they wanted a pet their freshman year of college. The fact that fish were the only pets allowed in the dorms impacted their search for a critter not at all. They wanted something that no one else in the dorm had. Since there was already a bunny, a guinea pig, a kitten, several hamsters, and so on, they settled on a hedgehog. I don’t know if the other illegally kept animals were discovered, but their little hoglet was and so Needles moved into my house. Now I can’t say that he is a wonderful pet (he’s a nocturnal, bitey, prickly, poop machine) but he’s cute and I have developed a soft spot for him. Having him around has made me more likely to notice hedgehog things and I was really curious about Vacchetta and Tomaselli’s book, A Handful of Happiness, about how Vacchetta, an Italian vet, came to let an injured wild hedgehog into his heart and eventually to run a refuge for the spiky creatures.

Vacchetta is lonely, recently divorced, and depressed when someone brings a tiny orphaned hedgehog to him. Feeling a kinship with the poor little thing, he vows to save the hedgie he names Ninna. Through his caring for Ninna, he examines his life and his insecurities. This little rescue hedgehog manages to touch a closed off piece of Vacchetta and to help him open himself up again. Saving Ninna also gives him a reputation for helping these prickly little animals and he quickly acquires a whole host of hedgies needing care or rehabilitation before being set free into the wild again.

The idea of the book is a sweet one. It’s presented simplistically and at no time does the reader forget that this is a translation. There is an awkwardness to the writing, an unnatural clunkiness of sorts. It is clear that Vacchetta loves Ninna and is devoted to his idea of helping ill and injured hedgehogs and he says some charming things about love here but there is also a lot of philosophical self-reflection as he shares the lessons he learns about himself. It is in these self-reflections that the clunkiness of the text is most evident. The cover will draw animal lovers in and it is a quick and easy read, but somehow, even with a hedgehog in my own life, this missed the mark for me.

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