The Canadian commercial seal hunt is the infamous annual slaughter of hundreds of thousands of seal pups, mostly killed by blunt force trauma sustained from hakapiks or by gunfire. Karen Levenson’s provocatively titled memoir Confessions of an Animal Rights Terrorist provides an informed, yet rarely intimate, look at the life of a women trapped between an abusive romantic partner and the cruel beurocratic infrastructure behind the annual Canadian seal hunt. Levenson’s memoir functions as a parallel between events in her life and those of the seal hunt. While Levenson’s story is certainly noteworthy, her comparisons occasionally fall flat.
Despite its title, Confessions of an Animal Rights Terrorist does not delve too much into the most interesting concept of the story: being classified as a terrorist by the government. Most animal rights activists are aware of the ever-present looming threat to their work: the false accusation of terrorism used to hinder progress in animal rights campaigns. Conflating activism with terrorism is a common tactic used by government institutions to foil campaigns, such as that to end the seal hunt. What is missing from Levenson’s memoir is a fully fleshed out understanding of what it means to be classified, or potentially classified, as a “terrorist”. What does this mean for one’s life? What impact does it have on one’s advocacy? Why are animal rights activists so flippantly compared to terrorists by governmental institutions? Though a lingering comparison of the abuse sustained by Levenson in her marriage and the governmental abuse of animal advocates seemed present, it was never fully realized in Levenson’s reflections.
While Levenson’s personal accounts may be lacking in the meditations expected of a memoirist, her facts about the Canadian seal hunt certainly are not. The strength of Confessions of an Animal Rights Terrorist lies in the arduous research Levenson has dedicated to the seal hunt. Levenson’s personal research, as well as her accounts of the bureaucratic processes involved in undermining the anti-seal hunt activists is truly fascinating. Levenson’s recitations of public policy, political advocacy, and her work in promoting a Canadian seafood ban are the shining stars of this memoir. Levenson has a knack for conveying dense statistical information in an accessible and engaging way.
Regardless of it’s tonal issues and buried lede, Confessions of an Animal Rights Terrorist is certainly a valuable memoir. Any novice to the topic of seal hunting will be fully immersed in Levenson’s comprehensive look at the brutality of the Canadian seal hunt and the organizers that are fighting to end it. Levenson has certainly had a fascinating career and has survived harrowing life events. Confessions of an Animal Rights Terrorist is, hopefully, the first of many future works from Karen Levenson. It is clear that she has so much to share.