THE WOLF CHILDREN by Charles Maclean

THE WOLF CHILDREN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Were they the hoax of the Rev. J. A. L. Singh, a sulky, poorly educated Indian missionary and orphanage director, or were Kamala and Amala actually found living with a wolf and her young? And if a genuine phenomenon, as they seem to be, how did they get there, two girls about five and three who didn't look like sisters? The questions have been posed by any number of skeptics, first locally in 1920s India where the secretive Singh apparently tried to avoid sideshow exploitation and notoriety, and again in the early 1940s when both Dr. Arnold Gesell and an American anthropologist consulted with Singh but published separately, Wolf Child and Human Child and The Wolf Children of Midnapore. Author Maclean comes to his own thoroughly researched conclusions--few persons could be more doubting--based on interviews with orphanage survivors, close readings of Singh's patchy diary and other accounts, and the lucky find of old letters in a Gesell Institute junkroom. Photographs attest to the girls' existence; what's problematic is sifting through the numerous versions of their capture--Singh had reasons for deception--and trusting the missionary's untrained and irregular descriptions of their life with him. Amala, the younger, died soon after capture, but Kamala, less responsive in those first months, lived for many years, forming an attachment to Mrs. Singh, developing rudimentary human skills (standing, a shuffle-walk, limited vocabulary) but regressing whenever slight gains were made. Several idiosyncrasies too bizarre for small-town Singh to dream up appear in the diary: Kamala's brief passion for fried eggs, her obsession with anything red. And certain wolf-like traits (running on all fours, excreting anywhere, a preference for raw meat) persisted for years, disconcerting to both Christian propriety and Hindu custom. But Singh, who dubbed himself a ""humble Indian Missionary,"" baptized her and believed she died a Christian. Maclean systematically tackles Singh's baffling character and the many snags in his story, anticipating every reservation one could hold and producing a suspenseful narrative in the process. Some of the questions remain unanswerable but the available evidence has been scoured with insight and circumspection.

Pub Date: May 17th, 1978
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux