Casanova's Parrot, by Mark Bryant (Carroll & Graf, 256...

Editor's Choice

October 20, 2002|By Michael Pakenham

Casanova's Parrot, by Mark Bryant (Carroll & Graf, 256 pages, $20).

This is a frolicking compilation of bits of information and speculation about famous women and men and the pets they had. Some of the little pieces are narratives -- Casanova bought a parrot for the sole purpose of teaching it to squawk a slander about a woman who had rejected him. Others are multiple entries -- Winston Churchill had lots of dogs, cats and birds. Some pieces are perilously far-fetched: Virgil's ostensible pet fly, the notion that Mozart "owned a pet starling which he taught to whistle the theme of the last movement of his G Major Piano Concerto." Other entries feel awfully contrived -- there are lots of citations of the horses of military men of history, though it's hard to argue that even a favorite horse falls into the genre of pet. Still, most of the items are brief and delightful, most of the names are familiar, and leafing through the whole thing provides a series of delights. By the way, Napoleon detested cats.

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