Animal Book Club: “The Tourist Trail” by John Yunker

Posted by Jennifer Molidor, ALDF's Staff Writer on May 1, 2013

This week, we turn to the fictional world of adventure and wildlife. The Tourist Trail (Ashland Creek Press, 2010) by John Yunker navigates the terrain that animal activists travel—through love, advocacy, and the law—in an exciting quest any reader will enjoy.

The novel, which won the Phoebe Award for fiction in a previous incantation as a short story, focuses on Angela Haynes, a biologist researching the penguins of Patagonia. Her life is quietly honed into the movements of the birds, her encounters with an endearing penguin named Diesel, and the wounds Angela nurses in her heart. That is, until the day the tourist trail opens near her research station.

A mysterious and weathered stranger suddenly appears on the shore and captivates Angela’s fascination—right when the solitude of life in a penguin colony, and the passivity of penguin research, has overcome her. The man on the lam, who bears the alias “Aeneas,” is an animal activist wanted by the Feds. Aeneas also heads up the Cetacean Defense Alliance as captain of The Arctic Tern. Angela is torn between doing research at the colony: tagging endangered penguins who end up dead in fishermen’s nets, against the lure of fighting whalers at the frontlines.

Fleeing her colony in the night, Angela boards the ship with Aeneas to taste adventure on the high seas. What she finds there threatens to unravel the mental fabric holding together her illusions of the world.

The final section of the book brings an array of characters to a surprising and suspense-filled resolution. Like a horse trotting before the gallop—John’s novel starts out patiently, building tension slowly, and introducing diverse characters. Some characters delightfully announce “I’m a vegetarian!” without fear of reprise. Others, like Ethan, are baffled when the lovely activist Annie passes along a petition to ban foie gras on a first date.

The analogies with modern whale warriors are at once obvious and nonbinding. Yet, the characters are based less on individuals than on the spirit behind those who dedicate their lives to saving whales. Throughout the book, the passions and sincerity of animal advocates are captured with immense respect.

A third of the way into this brave novel, the story becomes unstoppable. When I reached the final page, I realized I had spent the last hour believing I was immersed on a ship. John’s terrifying description of whaling is incredible:

When Robert looked up he saw the whale, dangling by a chain around its tail, its nose underwater, blood streaming from its belly and jaw. Its eye was still open and a flipper trembled.

Robert is told that “they let ‘em bleed out.” The narrative explains that this insight removes all concern for him—”the FBI, the job he had to do, even Noa—everything but the whale struggling before him”

Ultimately, the novel provides insight to the lives of animal activists, and shows the dangers—to activists themselves—of standing up for animals. The narrative also demonstrates the importance of fighting for justice for animals within the bounds of the law in a moving show of compassion for all those who advocate for animals.

Read excerpts of The Tourist Trail here.

The Tourist Trail Giveaway

Want to win a free copy of John Yunker’s fabulous book? To qualify, simply leave a comment below and join ALDF’s Animal Book Club at aldf.org/bookclub. It’s easy and keeps you abreast of all the best books in the animal rights world. Last week’s winner of a free copy of Death at SeaWorld was… Gina Powell… congratulations Gina!

Next week:

Interview with author John Yunker! Send your questions to books@aldf.org.

As always, check out our list of upcoming books and films in the Animal Book Club!

Happy reading!