- Our Symphony with Animals: On Health, Empathy, and Our Shared Destinies by Aysha A. Aktar
The human ego is an intriguing lens through which we humans view the world. Seldom do we step outside the comforting confines of our own perspective and dare to see things through the eyes of another. Dr. Akhtar invites readers to do just that, yet in doing so, she asks much of her audience, for this is not an easy read. Akhtar's book is personal, and this is what makes it unique, but also raw and alarming. It is a book about individual healing and the healing of our relationship with nonhuman animals. This book suggests means by which to heal the divide between nonhuman animals and humans, but also those that exist in intrahuman relationships. These relationships are examined through the eyes of a doctor addressing her own abuse and that of the companion who walked alongside her, enduring his own violence inflicted upon him by humans. They are further examined through the bonds forged between inmates and an aquarium of fish, through the recounting of a murderer's childhood empathy toward nonhuman animals, and through the eyes of those who have sacrificed their own bodies to protect women and children from abuse.
Just as acts of violence seldom arise organically, [End Page 208] so too is healing seldom a natural occurrence in the lives of humans and nonhuman animals. Akhtar takes the time necessary to ensure the reader understands that such acts are not easily addressed, overcome, or forgotten. The impact upon the persons—both victim and abuser—are long-lasting. The stories of those who have been hurt as well as those who have caused pain are heart-wrenching, but they serve a purpose. Each retelling of abuse suffered, each interview with an abuser, each moment spent in a high-density farm environment, every emotion elicited from the words on each page is intended to bring about healing. For some, the healing will come by the end of the chapter. For others, the healing will only come when humanity decides to make a change in their diet, their household routine, or in their treatment of nonhuman animals.
Even the author admits that what she writes can be difficult to endure. Akhtar acknowledges her own need for respite following her interviews with a prisoner named Jeperson in which he openly described how his treatment of nonhuman animals evolved into a murderous few years. Such acts are not easy to read nor were they easy to hear or write. The same can be said for much of the book, not the least being the day spent seeing, hearing, and smelling the high-density living facilities of a major meat producer in the United States. Akhtar admits this and her willingness to seek moments of peace echo in the reader's mind, offering moments to pause and reflect on the weighty nature of her message. Again, this is a book of healing, which is made more evident each time the author steps away from a clinical recounting of the facts and admits the impact each story has on her, inviting the reader to do the same.
There is an impression at times that the only reason to care about nonhuman animal abuse is that such behavior will eventually lead to physical violence toward humans. Throughout the book, Akhtar recounts the ways in which her interviewees began abusing animals and how their acts led to abusing, harming, and even killing other humans. Rather than simply regard nonhuman animal abuse as a step toward intrahuman violence, thus offering an argument against nonhuman animal abuse, Akhtar turns the spotlight again to the countless nonhuman animals who suffer at the hands of humans. The connection between the treatment of nonhuman animals and violence toward humans is well established, yet, Akhtar intimates, this should not be the sole reason for humans to address the manner in which humans treat nonhuman...