Carrying Albert Home

carrying albert homePublished: 2015
Author: Homer Hickam

An enchanting story of a man, his wife and her alligator


There’s an anecdote that my husband loves to recount about a holiday we took to Kenya.  We were sleeping in tents (very posh tents) on the side of a lake and I looked at the furtherest tent which had a number of crocodiles nearby.  “The poor buggers in that tent” I sympathised. “I’d hate to be so close to those horrible creatures.”  Of course it was our tent, given my absolute fear and hatred of crocodiles and alligators it was fate that we would be in that tent.  I’m not scared of many animals, I’ve dived with sharks swimming about underneath me and had no fear whatsoever (they were lovely little harmless reef sharks) but alligators and crocodiles terrify me.  They don’t belong in this millennium, they should have died out with the dinosaurs.  All of which makes it remarkable that not only did I adore Homer Hickam’s Carrying Albert Home, but I found myself quite emotionally attached to the titular Albert, an alligator on his way to freedom in Florida.

Described as a “somewhat true story” this is a fictionalised account of Homer’s parents’ roadtrip from their coal-mining hometown in West Virginia during the Great Depression, to Florida to release Albert into the wild.  Given to Elsie as a wedding present by former flame Buddy Ebsen, Albert has grown too large for the backyard and Homer Sr. insists that he must go. The 1000-mile roadtrip sees the young couple embarking on a number of adventures including becoming embroiled in an industrial dispute, Homer becoming a baseball player, Elsie becoming a nurse, travelling with John Steinbeck, and meeting Ernest Hemingway.

I was thoroughly enchanted by this book, it takes the reader on a roadtrip exploring the America of the Depression and also the hopes and dreams of a young couple. Elsie is both exceptionally frustrating and extremely likeable, struggling to find a place for herself in a world which isn’t open to ambitious young women. Homer is also likeable, but the complete opposite of Elsie. He knows his place is as a coal-miner in a small time and he is happy with this. This central conflict between Elsie and Homer drives much of the story as the couple and Elsie’s alligator travel across the country.

Each chapter is a fascinating little vignette, an exploration of America at a very specific period of its history and I found myself learning more about depression-era America through the experiences of Elsie, Homer and Albert than I had known previously. The stories are presented as almost true – Hickam’s retelling of anecdotes related by his parents. I don’t know how much truth is within the pages of Carrying Albert Home but I like to think it’s a lot, I want Elsie and Homer to have had these adventures, I want Albert to have been a sweet alligator and a friend to a stray rooster.

Carrying Albert Home is a wonderful, addictive, endearing story and will totally change the minds of anyone who (like me) thinks that alligators are vile creatures with no soul and no personality.

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