Hardcover, 256 pages
Published January 22nd 2015 by Gotham
Format read: ARC via publisher
With a matter-of-fact humor that will remind readers of Bill Bryson, and an honesty that will move even the most stalwart of readers, Antonia Murphy’s Dirty Chick is one book that you don’t want to miss.
After a traumatic experience caring for her father’s chicken, Antonia Murphy vowed to never again take responsibility for a living creature besides her children. That all changed in 2013 when Antonia uprooted her urban family and moved to Purua, New Zealand, a small rural community where the residents all lived as their forebears had done for centuries, raising livestock, growing their own food, and making cheese.
It was an odd place for American yuppies to settle, but after Antonia’s five-year-old son was diagnosed with a developmental delay, she feared that he would struggle at a fast-paced city school. She and her husband wanted him to grow up in a place where he could thrive and be part of a community. How great it would be to get back to the land! How responsible and progressive and eco-friendly, she thought. So what if she had zero farming experience? How hard could it be?
As Antonia later noted, “You don’t see dairy farmers moving to the city with big ideas about being cardiologists for fun.” Soon, she found herself carrying poop in her purse, trying to wrangle a rogue dairy cow, and impregnating a goat. But Antonia soldiered on, slowly becoming addicted to farm life—even if she’ll never be a natural.
Part touching story of a family starting over and part raunchy send-up of the burgeoning artisan farming movement, Dirty Chick will make readers laugh, cringe, and root for its incredible, unlikely heroine.
But I’ve never had a reading experience like Dirty Chick. Billed as the “adventures of an unlikely farmer”, Antonia Murphy unflinchingly and hilariously shares her first years in New Zealand, and trying to adapt her San Francisco ways to a farmer’s life, goat poop, alpaca spitting and all.
The book begins in San Francisco, where Murphy shares an infamous encounter with a duck, which should be more than enough to turn her off farm animals for life. However, life and political ideology intervene, leaving Murphy and her new husband to pick up and move to New Zealand for a life in Hobbit land.
While Murphy is matter-of-fact about the realities of her situation, the reflections on her political ideology and the understanding that the previously bohemian San Francisco is now pricing her out will likely resonate with many readers. There’s a certain sense of “Life is weird, but this is where I’m letting it take me,” that will keep readers engaged, as Murphy and her husband delve into New Zealand life and begin to build their life.
Over the next two hundred and forty something pages, Murphy and her family run the gauntlet of farming experiences, ranging from nomadic cows and debeaked chickens, to other adventures that I absolutely would be ruining, if I were to share them here.
Though the adventures typically ranged from the bizarre to the overly bizarre, Murphy relates all of them with the warmth and bemused humor of someone who will always be game for trying new and different things. There is a certain Bryson-esque quality to her humorous ability to relate something like brain-eating alpacas - seriously, you'll want to read it, to find out what I mean - and readers will feel like they're living alongside her as a result.
However, despite all of the hilarious anecdotes of farm life, it's Murphy's decision to juxtapose her farm adventures with tales of her son Silas, that truly solidifies the charm and warmth of this story. Silas, who is developmentally delayed, experiences his own challenges with living and coping with New Zealand. Readers are able to see how Murphy and her husband are able to take advantage of their unique environment to help foster his growth, and it's also their unique setting which helps them conquer some of the medically-related challenges that come along the way.
Ultimately, this is one of those books where I really can't say too much, for fear of spoiling the reading experience for others. However, I will absolutely say that Murphy gets it. She shares a period of her life that was both challenging and exciting - I blinked, when I realized that she had written this fairly recently - while also allow readers to get a peek of just how unromantic a life abroad may be sometimes, but how it is also s very, very, worth it.
Antonia Murphy introduces us to her life in New Zealand with candid honesty and gentle good humor, as she reflects on the absurdities (and benefits!) of farm life in a welcoming community, and how her family has adapted to the many challenges and obstacles that have come their way.
I challenge any reader to pick up the book, and keep a straight face during some of Antonia’s more adventurous farming moments – Love Mountain, anyone? – while also resisting the urge to fall in love with Antonia’s family. Neither is possible, trust me.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who’s looking for a good non-fiction book and/or autobiography that will remind them of some of the joys in life, both big and small. This is the book for you.