Elephants have held a special fascination for humans for millenia. Worshipped as gods, feted as performers, trained as workers, they have a special relationship with people. These three books deal with that relationship in its myriad forms.
The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James is a luminescent book. The story shifts between three perspectives. Emma is a filmmaker creating a documentary about a celebrated veterinarian who is famous for working with rescued elephant calves. Manu is hunting a homicidal elephant who has killed his cousin; and there is the murderous elephant himself, called the Gravedigger, a survivor of numerous traumas. James' real achievement is inhabiting the mind of Gravedigger, but everyone gets full shrift: all are righteous, all are guilty, and they all move to a shattering climax. Rich characterization, sensual description, and propulsive plotting make this a book to savor.
Sara Gruen is known for her books about animals and the people who care for them, but many consider Water for Elephants to be her masterwork. Reeling from personal tragedy, former veterinary student Jacob joins a traveling circus almost by accident. He falls in love both with the equestrienne, Marlena, and the elephant, Rosie. While his love for Rosie and hers for him is simple and unequivocal, Marlena has a husband who abuses man and beast. Gruen manages to evoke nostalgia for the harsh world of a 1930's traveling show, and her characterizations are at the heart of this engaging tale. This book was made into a movie, also titled Water for Elephants.
Jodi Picoult writes of love and loss in Leaving Time. Jenna's family lived in an elephant sanctuary until the night something bad happened, bad enough for her mother to abandon her and force her father into a psych ward. Ten years later and armed with her mother's journals, thirteen-year-old Jenna enlists the help of a faltering psychic and the detective who bungled the original case to help her divine what really happened. Laced throughout is lore about elephants, particularly how they grieve, which was the focus of Jenna's mother's studies. This richly detailed story centering on a sassy, well-developed heroine will move you.
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