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4.3 out of 5 stars
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4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 20 August 2013
This is a story which engages the heart at many turns of the tale. A young British schoolmarm escapes from Burma during WWII with her orphan charges, unwanted girls who are the unwanted results of illicit Burmese and British relationships. On the danger-fraught journey to India she encounters courage, betrayal, and love However, the real protagonists of the story are the elephants who demonstrate intelligence, courage and parental love. For me this made the story special as these magnificent animals are being killed at unprecedented rates by ivory poachers. I hope everyone who reads this story will fall in love with the elephants and vow to work in some small way for elephant conservation.
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on 21 November 2012
I was honestly surprised by how gripped I was by this enthralling story set in Burma during World War II. I knew the author to be a distinguished journalist who has worked in some very dangerous locations and a witty and compassionate writer on many topics but he has drawn on all that experience to create a well researched and highly readable story made all the more harrowing and moving by being based on real events. I found myself caring about the fate of the characters [ including the elephants] and read the book quickly, anxious to find out their fate.

At the end of the book I found myself wanting to know more about the events on which it was based and wondering about the right actress to play Grace , the attractive [ although occasionally infuriating] heroine when the book is turned into a film , as surely it must.
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on 9 February 2015
Sadly I could not finish this book - got 2/3 the way through and rather regret the time I spent reading as far as that. There's a good story in there somewhere, and someone else might have written a masterpiece but not this author. I thought the prose was ghastly and the characters one-dimensional. Very poor.
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on 20 October 2012
What a ripping good yarn!. This was a really enjoyable read and I got so caught up in it I missed my station. Great to have a female protagonist who is resilient but beievable. The elephants are enchanting characters and you got the impression the author really cared about them. The characters back storys are interesting and for me educational as they provide an opportunity for the author to fill us in on the actual history of the time leaving me wanting to learn more. The story is vividly told, I was in that jungle. It would make a great film and I hope someone has the sense to make it into one. The truth at the heart of it desrves to be heard and the author has done a great job in the telling.
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on 20 March 2013
What a marvellous book! And oh how I loved Grace. This story would make a brilliant film. I too would love to know more about the real history behind this tale and the research and commitment to telling it has paid off. I highly recommend this novel and I look forward to John Sweeney's next.
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on 1 September 2014
This is the story of the evacuation of Anglo-Burmese orphans from Bishop Strachan’s school in Burma in 1942. Caught up in the Japanese invasion they are denied passage out, partly because of their birthright and partly because the retreating Colonials took priority. A young teacher, Grace Collins, unable to leave her pupils, finds them passage on an old bus driven by a loyal servant and they head for India. When the bus fails, there seems little hope – enter Sam, a resourceful teak plantation owner and his fifty-three elephants.

The book starts well and whilst it is a writer’s gift, John Sweeney is a journalist and he writes like one. Well-plotted but with no heart, there are some good descriptions but the dialogue is so clunky I found it difficult to believe in the characters. Miss Furroughs was so inconsistent that I became irritated. Mr Peach, a believable character when sober, would not, in his drunken state, have spoken to Grace as he did – and if he had, she would more than likely have slapped him. And, I’m sorry, but Sam appeared like a caricature from a third rate British war film – his elephants Disneyesque.
The people of that era simply didn’t speak in the way JW depicts and I speak from experience. Many of those fleeing the Japanese, both military and civilian, were forced to endure sights and perform actions that were degrading and dehumanising and, whilst it cannot be denied that some of them did despise the natives, JW’s assertion that many of the retreating Allies were a bunch of racist cowards with little conscience does them a great disservice. No matter what JS’s personal opinion (and it had no place in this book) a conquering army is rarely popular but, by and large, Britain did more than is often credited for India.

Some good dramatic moments were given no sense of drama. If a grown man had hit a young, frail girl in anger, twice, she certainly wouldn’t have put her hand to her cheek and made a mild complaint. And if an experienced soldier has a target in his sights and pulls the trigger he will hopefully hit it – the bullet will not, however, be deflected after the event by a shove on his arm. His comment after what should have been a poignant love scene: ‘When they were done…’.

There are so many mistakes in syntax ( ... steam-powered, a side wheeler, built when Queen Victoria was still in her pomp at the Laird yard on the Mersey …). There are several errors that should have been spotted: His right lip crinkled …. His hair half bald … and I don’t think a rough lad from the London docklands would have said ‘Eh up’ or ‘bodily functions’ when describing the obvious, nor was ‘the Old Bill’ in common use at that time. And Peach’s sergeant major couldn’t decide whether he was from Yorkshire or from London.
There has to be a difference between the narrative voice and reminiscence but JS moves arbitrarily between the two until the reader becomes confused.
He makes suppositions based on nothing – too many to mention. I’m sorry but this book doesn’t work on so many levels I cannot recommend it.
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on 7 November 2012
Firstly, I should declare my interest: I share a publisher with John Sweeney. However, I wouldn't review this book positively unless I felt it was really worthy of such a review. Elephant Moon is a pacy story and a great read. I particularly enjoyed the feisty character of Grace and the bumbling ways of Mr Peach. Sweeney has managed to inject plenty of humour into the novel despite the fact that the true events it is based on were very serious indeed - making this fast-moving adventure a lot of fun.
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This novel (based on a true story) tells of the journey of a young English schoolteacher, Grace, who undertakes to escort the sixty-three half-caste orphans (the products of the illicit couplings of Western soldiers and Burmese or Indian girls) from Burma during WW2. The children are low priority, because of who they are, and Grace receives little help. However, she finally encounters some soldiers who are undertakiing the same journey, but with the help of elephants, and after some persuasion, they agree to escort Grace and her charges. Pursued by the Japanese, who are always close behind, the party encounter all kinds of hazards - both natural and otherwise - in what turns out to be a perilous and at times life-threatening journey.

The story is undoubtedly gripping (hence the four stars), and the courage and intelligence of the elephants at times heart-breaking (they are the true heroes of the novel). But I do have reservations. Firstly, the novel is somewhat unbalanced. In several places, too much space is given to flashbacks which are not really essential to the plot. And I really do wonder whether a nice English girl would (at that time) have fallen so easily in love and had sexual relations; and this with two separate men in surprisingly short order. Also, the novel's ending is wrapped up very quickly and neatly, and I felt this could have been managed better.

However - I have to recommend this novel, as I found it gripping and very readable.
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on 10 September 2014
Grace is the teacher of sixty-three half-caste orphan girls in a Church of England school in Rangoon, Burma. At the fall of Rangoon and Burma to the Japanese she undertakes the evacuation of these girls to India and safety. Along the way she encounters danger, betrayal, cowardice but also bravery, spirit and love. She and the girls are ultimately rescued by working elephants who are also being evacuated from Burma by the head of the British Teak company and their flight from the encroaching Japanese is made possible by these wondrous creatures.

This book hovers between a 3 and 4 star for me. The storyline is interesting and complex, the subject inspiring, the prose is descriptive and evocative but the book is let down by the characters. They are described rather than revealing themselves and the reader doesn't get to know them emotionally. It is very hard to make any connection with the characters whether they be good or bad; I didn't find myself rooting for Grace and the children or reviling Gregory, nor had any sense of Grace's growing feelings for the Jem or Peach. The characters that really shine are the elephants and I felt a greater attachment to their welfare than to the human characters whose back stories are told in large lumps rather than being revealed by the characters themselves. The dialogue between the characters is often stilted and unsatisfying whereas the elephants seem to lumber right off the page.

The writing shows a great deal of historical research into the events of the time and that aspect was most interesting: the Jiffs, the movements in India and Burma to rid themselves of the British, the British attitudes and way of life in Rangoon and the events of the fall of Rangoon and Burma.

It was an interesting and pleasant read but could have been a superb one if the human characters had been as powerful as the elephants.
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on 17 February 2015
I'm really not sure if I am missing something with this book. There are hundreds of favorable reviews and I just can't see it. I found the book dry, the writing style stilted and boring, and the characters dull. I got to about 50 or 60 pages in and I just couldn't keep reading. I loved the idea of the story and I so wanted to like this book but I just couldn't keep reading - it felt like a chore. The characters didn't see like anything special, the story never got started, there was just nothing to hook me in at all.

Maybe I'll try again in 6 months and see if I can grasp what everyone else is seeing.
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