Getting away

Picture book review, from Tokyo – It’s the start of the Golden Week holidays in Japan when the entire white-collar working population (and some more) go on vacation. I popped by my local library to find what they had picked for children, and found a picture of a family of capybaras set among some long grass, somewhat near their home. Were they on vacation?

Translated by Makiko Amino as 『カピバラがやってきた』(Kapibara ga yattekita, lit. Here come the capybaras), the title gave little away, but Alfredo Soderguit’s capybaras did not convey the laid back, relaxed atmosphere that these animals normally look when they warm themselves in baths during winter. Eyes wide open. Huddled together and facing outward. They looked very afraid and alert to some unsighted danger.

The book starts off with life on a chicken farm. Chicken life is comfortable. There’s plenty of feed. Things are quiet and low stress. Except when the farmer to pick some chickens, of course.

One fine day, the family of capybaras arrive. The chickens try to chase them away. But when the rodent family stays without explaining much else, the chickens set rules that must be obeyed. No questions asked! The capybaras are told to stay in the water, far far away from the chickens’ feed. When a baby capybara ventures on land and befriends a chick, the chickens make a racket! The capybaras are wild animals! And you’ll never know what they’ll do!

And the capybaras do just that. They scare off a hunting dog from the chick and their baby, and the chickens let them come on land. The chickens teach them their way of life and even let them sleep in their barn.

After the end of the hunting season, the capybaras return to their home. But they still drop by to visit, and eventually… the chickens make their getaway on the backs of the capybaras to a sheep farm elsewhere on the banks of the lake.

Award winning Alfredo Soderguit needs no introduction, and this story needs no explanation. Outsiders seeking temporary refuge. Trusting others and learning to live together.

But there seems to be another underlying current. Getting away from conflict and danger offers temporary respite. The chickens sought a long-term solution – they left their apparently comfortable but perilous dwelling (you never know who’s next!).

I took a while to settle on the title for this post. But when I did, many questions surfaced in my head. Why do we need to get away? Perhaps there’s some monster? Chores? Work? Stress? KPIs?

Returning to the topic of getting away, when we humans make our temporary escape, we do so on our rules. Just recently, vacationers in Japan had reportedly come close to hitting wild boars that were rushing across the road. Wild animals have been sighted more often in built-up areas as human activity has receded, but with people now ready to move en masse across large swathes of the country, are we even aware of those unwritten rules and practices in the natural environment? Do we understand them well enough or even at all? Are we living well together with the rest of the planet? Is there a long-term alternative to our way of life today?

The capybaras made the chickens realize that there could be a better solution. If we learn to live with others and our environment, maybe we will too.

*Review based on the Japanese translation.

『カピバラがやってきた』(Kapibara ga yattekita, lit. Here come the capybaras) translation by Makiko Amino of the original Los carpinchos by Alfredo Soderguit
Publisher: Iwasaki Shoten, 2022