Title: The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter: A Memoir
Author: Holly Robinson
“What kind of Navy officer sits on his ship in the middle of the Mediterranean dreaming of gerbils?”
That’s the question that Holly Robinson sets out to answer in this warm and rollicking memoir of life with her father, the world’s most famous gerbil czar.
Starting with a few pairs of gerbils housed for curiosity’s sake in the family’s garage, Donald Robinson’s obsession with the “pocket kangaroo” developed into a lifelong passion and second career. Soon the Annapolis-trained Navy commander was breeding gerbils and writing about them for publications ranging from the ever-bouncy Highlights for Children to the erudite Science News. To support his burgeoning business, the family eventually settled on a remote hundred-acre farm with horses, sheep, pygmy goats, peacocks–and nearly nine thousand gerbils.
From part-time model for her father’s bestselling pet book, How to Raise and Train Pet Gerbils, to full-time employee in the gerbil empire’s complex of prefab Sears buildings, Holly was an enthusiastic if often exasperated companion on her father’s quest to breed the perfect gerbil. Told with heart, humor, and affection, The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter is Holly’s ode to a weird and wonderful upbringing and her truly one-of-a-kind father (from Goodreads).
Thoughts: Holly Robinson grew up in the 60s, daughter to a naval commander. Like many other children with parents in the military, Holly moved around a lot: Virginia, Kansas, Massachusetts. But unlike other military children, Holly and her family were unique: they had gerbils. Lots of them.
Holly’s father first ordered six gerbils from a children’s catalog on a whim. Soon, their garage in Virginia Beach housed over 200 gerbils. Holly’s father Donald became obsessed, spending every spare hour away from his ship in the garage, breeding and observing his pets. He began to write books and articles that appeared in scientific publications about gerbils. When her father was re-stationed to Kansas, Donald sold his gerbils to pet stores but soon began breeding them again in the garage of their house on the base where they lived. When the family moved to Massachusetts, Holly’s father bought a run down isolated farm and, after his retirement from the navy, began to breed gerbils full-time as a business enterprise: he sold his gerbils to labs and research centers around the world. At one point, housed in three prefabricated buildings, Donald had over 9,000 gerbils- the largest amount in the world. When Holly wasn’t reluctantly scooping out gerbil poop or cleaning the cages, she rode her horse, Ladybug, or helped her mom who had started a riding school and boarding facility on the farm. With over 9,000 gerbils, 40 horses, sheep, goats, peacocks, geese, exotic birds, cats, dogs, her grandparents, and her little brother Donald, the farm was busy, noisy, and crowded. The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter tells the story of Holly’s childhood and the sun her little earth family revolved around: her father and his all-consuming passion for gerbils.
I thought this book was just charming! I loved watching Holly grow up from a little girl obsessed with horses to an awkward teenager who just wanted a boyfriend. Holly’s family, and their uniqueness, was what made this book such a quirky joy to read. We all know someone like Holly’s father: the type of person who is busy and productive every minute of the day, always producing, improving, or creating something which in turn makes the rest of us feel like lazy slobs. But not many (or any) people know someone who turns this fantastic reserve of energy into making a business out of breeding gerbils. Although I like gerbils and think that they are quite cute, I can not imagine possessing such a love and esteem for gerbils that I would want thousands of them! Holly and her family don’t understand it either but they go along with her father as he builds a most extensive- and lucrative- gerbil empire.
This book was so much fun! I read it in two days, the fastest time I’ve finished a book in a while. As someone who had a ‘normal’ childhood it was great fun to read about someone who truly had a one of a kind experience as a kid. The only thing that bothered me was that I wanted to know about what Holly’s father did after he sold the business and retired. After having, raising, breeding,and obsessing over gerbils for so many years what did he do after they were all gone? Did he keep one or two just as pets or did he go cold turkey? What did he do to occupy the time now that he couldn’t spend every spare minute of the day with his precious gerbils? I wanted to know the answer to this but Holly Robinson doesn’t give us answers. The memoir is entirely focused on her childhood; the book soon ends after she goes to college so I can understand the lack of elaboration but I couldn’t help but wondering what her father did with his time and if he found another project to focus on.
As usual I seem to have less to say about a book that I liked then one I didn’t expect for the usual ‘I loved this book! Go read it!’ I can’t help it though- this book was great and just what I needed. I’m not sure yet but I am thinking of adding it to my shelves- we shall see! For a look at a totally unique childhood, the family that inhabits it, and all things gerbils, check out The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter!