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Mary Whipple (New England)
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Here Are the Young Men
Here Are the Young Men
by Rob Doyle
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.19

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “I just did me last exam yesterday, how could I have had time to find a job?”, 25 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Here Are the Young Men (Paperback)
Set during the height of Ireland’s economic boom in the early 2000s, Dubliner Rob Doyle’s debut novel focuses on four young men who have just finished secondary school, none of them with any idea of what they want to do with their lives, and even less motivation. Main character Matthew Connelly, a teenage Everyman, sometimes behaves like a punk, but he and three close friends slowly grow for the reader within their own chapters here, and the contrasts in their lives are vividly illustrated. Joseph Kearney, a friend whose whole life seems governed by his consumption of drugs and alcohol, is showing dangerous signs of losing all control. Richard Tooley, known as “Rez,” a more intellectual character, evaluates his life and comes to what he regards as philosophically valid conclusions. The fourth teen, Gary Cocker, often acts as a foil for the actions of the others.

With a graduate degree in philosophy, author Rob Doyle writes a novel with simple premises and complex results as he develops these characters. The relationships between the teens and their hard-working parents, who had hoped for success for them, are often understandably frayed, and Matt's parents would have been horrified to know that very close to the time they had a "serious talk" with Matt about his future, he and his friends, drunk and high on drugs, visited the coastal mansion of U2 singer Bono in Killiney to scream expletive-laden insults at Bono and what he represents for them. As the boys wander around Dublin, always drunk and high, they visit popular sites, like the Temple Bar, and go to the beach, much like any other teens, though Matt worries about a potentially violent encounter he has observed between Kearney and a junkie.

Despite their almost constant intoxication, each character maintains a kind of personal honesty here, even when out of control, making the reader both sympathetic and empathetic, and as the novel evolves, the boys’ issues become increasingly dramatic. The novel becomes darker, more frightening, and eventually explosive. The eternal generation gap, the unpreparedness of these teenage boys for real life, their seeming lack of values (except for the dubious value they see in each other’s company), and the widespread availability of all kinds of drugs and drink set up these boys for personal failure.

The author’s insightful scenes, related in earthy language, draw the reader into the boys’ inner worlds, however foreign those worlds might be to the reader’s own experiences. Their conversations and behavior, while often bizarre, somehow inspire empathy, since most seem to have some residual sense of what is “right.” Few readers who are drawn in by the action and themes of this novel will be able to forget it quickly, and parents of teens may become particularly alarmed at the unambiguous depiction of their teens’ secret lives.


Lost For Words
Lost For Words
by Edward St Aubyn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “Sometimes you have to read the judges rather than the books.”, 16 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Lost For Words (Hardcover)
The fine line between satire and farce is obliterated in this novel about the annual granting of England’s most prestigious literary prize. Author Edward St. Aubyn never hesitates to leap with both feet from satire into bold farce here, as often as some of his characters jump into each other’s beds. At the same time, however, he also maintains a bemused and distantly objective point of view regarding the machinations of those authors competing for the Elysian Prize, along with the judges who will decide the winner, and the literary establishment which recognizes the internal wheeling and dealing but still takes the whole process seriously. The prize in this novel is named for Elysian, a highly controversial agricultural company which manufactures “the world’s most radical herbicides and pesticides, and a leader in the field of genetically modified crops.”

St. Aubyn’s parodies of various literary styles, represented by some of the candidates for the Elysian Prize mentioned here will bring smiles of recognition to many readers. ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE, a book favored by Elysian judge Tobias Benedict, an actor, shows St. Aubyn’s skill in writing sophisticated parodies of Shakespearean drama here. Conversations between William and Ben [Jonson] and Thomas Kyd and John Webster conjure up the controversy about who REALLY wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Like Shakespeare himself, author St. Aubyn also delights in mining the depths of low humor and farce for other scenes. The writing of one candidate for the prize, WOT YOU STARIN AT, by Hugh MacDonald, is so full of gutter language involving Death Boy and Wanker that it cannot be quoted here. A surprise candidate is THE PALACE COOKBOOK by Lakshmi Badanpur, an Indian cookbook combined with family memoir, in which the prize committee recognizes creative fictional overtones.

Despite his wonderful, over-the-top descriptions, St. Aubyn also maintains a reserve (and a distanced smirk) which gives added punch to some genuine issues within the plot of this novel. Malcolm Craig, a member of Parliament and Under-Secretary of State for Scotland, has been appointed Chairman of the prize committee. The other judges are Penny Feathers, a thriller writer; Tobias Benedict, the actor, who is also the godson of Sir David Hampshire, the aristocrat in charge of choosing the prize committee; Jo Cross, a well-known columnist and media personality; and Vanessa Shaw, an “Oxbridge academic” who identifies her specific area of interest simply as “good writing.” None of the judges feel any need to read all the books on the Long List – and in choosing the Short List, all have at least one favorite novel – in some cases the only candidate for the prize that they have read at all.

St. Aubyn’s Lost for Words, a book of significant literary accomplishment, gives the lie to the idea that good fiction is dead. Its humor, intelligence, and awareness of the greater world is not only intact but sparkling, a book which, in its way, celebrates the values which serious readers accept and even admire. Of all the books I have read recently, this one has been the most amusing during a period in which so much other reading has been ultra-serious and (often) very long. A perfect book for summer written by a well-recognized author who is taking a different and much welcomed tack, Lost for Words may not be on any Short Lists, but it is high on my own Favorites List.


Travels of Daniel Ascher, The
Travels of Daniel Ascher, The
by Deborah Levy-Bertherat
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.57

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “[Daniel’s] story does not belong to this family’s memories, her grandfather used to say, it was not their business.”, 13 Jun. 2015
In this short but beautifully compressed novel about writing, identity, memory, and the Holocaust, French author Deborah Levy-Bertherat tells the story of Helene Roche and her great-uncle Daniel Roche, previously known as Daniel Ascher, and also known as H. R. Sanders, author of the Black Insignia series of young adult adventure novels. Divided into three parts which take place between September 1999, and July 2000, the novel focuses on Helene’s efforts to come to terms with her relationship with this much older family member, even as she herself is writing her thesis for a degree at the Institute of Art and Archaeology at the University of Paris.

Daniel, a Jewish child when World War II began, was adopted by her family when his own family disappeared. Helene knows that he has some family members in the US, but she is not involved or interested enough in his life to want to pursue this aspect of his life - she does not regard it as any of her business. Her closest connection to Daniel has been that, historically, when he has returned from his many trips, he has brought her a gemstone from one of the countries that he has visited. Postcards from far away places like Patagonia make her feel somewhat more curious about her great-uncle Daniel’s experiences. Though she herself has never managed to read more than a few pages of any of his books, she suspects that Daniel Ascher’s adventure stories may reflect his own adventures in Machu Pichu, the jungles of Borneo, and the ruins of Pompeii, among other places.

Gradually, Daniel’s complex feelings about his adoption, his adoptive family, and the survivors of his birth family in the United States, are revealed, and Helene’s feeling that he seems to have changed since his last trip make their relationship even more complex. Old photographs, their history, a modern day hurricane and its aftereffects, and a trip to New York all animate the changes taking place in the relationship between Daniel and Helene. Suggestions arise regarding secret relationships among family members, which threaten to affect future relationships. The novel’s action is not complex, though it deals with three generations of people, some of them from other countries, and many of them with good reason to hide the past.

At about the halfway mark, I found myself thinking that this might be a good book for use in teaching high school students about the various literary tools, well developed here, which are available to writers who might want to provide a new approach to a well-studied subject like the Holocaust. Through the simplicity of the author’s style and her light touch, the author stimulates empathy for her characters. Ultimately, she shows that the true writer and committed chronicler of the past, emotionally wrapped in the atmosphere of another time, may have no alternative but to follow his/her muse into the scenes and stories which have animated his/her own life, and relive and perhaps revise his/her own history in the process.


Divine Punishment
Divine Punishment
by Sergio Ramirez
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.10

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "You can't put someone in jail for being a smooth talker...[but] Castaneda's like a scorpion lurking in a pile of clothes.", 8 Jun. 2015
This review is from: Divine Punishment (Hardcover)
(4.5 stars) Fellow author Carlos Fuentes describes this book by Sergio Ramirez as "the great novel of Central America," incorporating a "heart of darkness...the fullness of comedy, and the imminence of tragedy." Fuentes compares Ramirez to Flaubert in technique, and calls this book "a true microcosm of Central America...[with] the action [also] reverberating in Costa Rica and Guatemala." Ramirez (1942 - present) is not "just" the author of this novel, however. A liberal who opposed the Somoza government of Anastasio Somoza Debayle, he was actively involved in bringing about the Sandinista political revolution in Nicaragua in 1979, and from 1985 - 1990, he served as Vice President of Nicaragua during the presidency of Daniel Ortega. During the 1980s, Ramirez, who grew estranged from Ortega and his policies, also managed to write this novel, considered his masterpiece.

Basing the novel on several real poisonings and their investigation in 1932-1933, Ramirez recreates what has been described as "the most celebrated criminal trial in Nicaraguan history," a case which he uses to illustrate the conditions and social mores of the country during the time that Somoza is laying the groundwork for his eventual dictatorship in Nicaragua, beginning in 1936. Documents and reports presented by journalists, physicians, police, the judicial authorities, the army, attorneys, and the voracious public, are presented here for the reader to review. The poisoner in the novel, assumed by all to be Castaneda himself, poisoned not only his wife, but three members of another family.

The story is not complicated and relies on the oldest of motives. Oliverio Castaneda, a Guatemalan working in Nicaragua as first secretary for the Guatemalan legation, is a very ambitious married man, always in need of money. Befriending the wealthy Don Carmen Contreras, for whom he eventually works, Castanega and his wife are invited to move into the Contreras home. There, Castaneda quickly begins flirting with the two Contreras daughters, and it is not long before Castaneda's wife Marta begins to become a drag on his plans. When she falls ill and dies, the cause is officially "complications from blackwater fever." Many, however, believe that she died from strychnine poisoning. Soon after that, others who are "inconvenient" to Castaneda, also begin to suffer the same symptoms.

Accounting frauds are discovered in the books which Castaneda manages, and he is additionally implicated in the death of his friend Rafael Ubico. Many depositions from the time are revealed here, all of which implicate Castaneda, and some of which are connected to Anastasio Somoza, who was then in the army. Letters and other hidden transactions also implicate Castaneda. As author Ramirez presents the legal case, consisting of legal briefs, medical reports, and statements from "witnesses," he builds both the structure of the novel and the case against Castaneda. Almost five hundred pages of "evidence," open hostilities among various governmental agencies, and the motivations for fraud among some members of the government, raise the possibility that Castaneda may, in fact, be the victim of a set up. In this unusual novel of Nicaraguan social, political, and judicial issues, author Sergio Ramirez wants the reader to think beyond the obvious.


Elusive Moth, The
Elusive Moth, The
by Ingrid Winterbach
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “Moths are elusive. That’s why they’re so good at surviving in extreme conditions.”, 20 May 2015
This review is from: Elusive Moth, The (Paperback)
Voorspoed, a small rural “dorp” in the center of South Africa in 1994, is about to experience a whole new way of life with the election of Nelson Mandela as the new President of the country. The tensions and the uncertainty among the primarily white residents are palpable here, and they run constantly in the background of the novel. Only rarely, however, do they intrude directly since the novel is primarily the character study of a scientist who does not know who she is. Newly translated into English by Iris Gouws and the author, The Elusive Moth captures a unique period in a small rural community in which no one can be quite sure who is really in charge.

Karolina Ferreira, an entomologist who is searching for a rare moth, arrives in Voorspoed, where she summered twenty five years ago, and it is her experiences there in 1994 that drive this character-based novel. With her parents dead and her sister far away, Karolina is alone. She hikes through the veld each day with a fellow scientist, also new to town, who is seeking unusual plants for possible use as new cures for diseases, but Karolina herself, like the country, is at loose ends. “She had long withdrawn from this place, there was nothing here to which she might attach herself now.” She no longer knew anyone, and many of the familiar buildings were gone.

Using the hotel bar and snooker room as the town’s central gathering place, Karolina meets many men (like a moth to a flame?) but few women. She does observe lovers having illicit affairs, and she enjoys dancing every Saturday night with one man with whom she rarely even talks. Over time, their dancing gradually becomes more and more frantic, until eventually she experiences a kind of dance-induced euphoria. “She no longer expected immediate gratification. The study of moths and the refinement of her dance technique, these were the objects of her passion.” In the meantime, she still has nightly dreams and nightmares of the past, many of them sexual, and it is not until later in the novel that she begins to feel signs of real love. She sees no parallels between her search for an elusive moth and her search for a life.

Accidents which may not be accidents, murder, suicide, and racial crimes all appear as the novel develops, and while the reader may be horrified, Karolina remains relatively insulated from the horrors. The town breathed “not a word to give any indication that things were constantly brewing underneath the surface,” even as Karolina is slowly developing her own sense of self. Like her two later novels available in English, To Hell with Cronje, and The Book of Happenstance, this novel deals with clear themes of life, love, and death, analyzed on a grand scale and shown in an equally grand evolutionary context. Though there are times here in which the philosophizing and the allegorical connotations may begin to overpower the story, Winterbach aims high, a goal to be celebrated even if it occasionally overshoots its mark. An unusual novel set during a unique time in the history of South Africa.


In Her Absence
In Her Absence
by Antonio Munoz Molina
Edition: Paperback

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "What a waste of time it was not to be always with her, to have her nearby and be able to look at her…”, 18 May 2015
This review is from: In Her Absence (Paperback)
"What a waste of time it was not to be always with her, to have her nearby and be able to look at her…”

Antonio Munoz Molina, one of Spain’s premier writers, shows his intense psychological and atmospheric style in this short novel, a perfect introduction to this author for anyone who has not already read A Manuscript of Ashes, or any of Munoz Molina’s other works. In the latter important novel, the author’s scope is that of Spanish Civil War, the people it absorbed, and the subsequent dictatorship of Generalissimo Francisco Franco. The present novel (which some will consider a novella), is of a much more limited scope – the life and love of Mario Lopez, an undistinguished worker in the city of Jaen, halfway between Madrid and the south coast of Spain.

As this novel opens, something has obviously happened in the marriage of Mario Lopez, the protagonist in his thirties, and his wife Blanca, a woman who, on the surface, appears to have little in common with her husband. Mario, the insecure son of a rural family is almost anonymous in his profession – a draftsman, rather than the architect he would like to be - and Blanca, the sometimes confused, arts-oriented daughter of a well-to-do family from Jaen, has, in the past, accused him of “settling for too little, of lacking the slightest ambition.” How he and Blanca ended up married is one of the mysteries of the novel that develops as the action proceeds in its roundabout way through time and flashbacks.

Mario, the reader learns, has met and come to know Blanca at a particularly vulnerable time in her life. Blanca had became involved as a young woman with a painter named Jaime Naranjo, also known popularly as “Jimmy N,” ten years older than she, and through him she was also exposed to contemporary opera, theater, art – and alcohol and drugs. Mario just happens to be the person present when she crashes publicly soon after that. Though she is from an elite family and he is not, they find comfort with each other, on some level, at least, until an event leads Mario to feel, eventually, after their six years of marriage, as if he can no longer recognize her – or himself.

The conceit of Mario thinking that the Blanca who is living in his apartment is not the real Blanca, which repeats throughout the novel, becomes understandable as the novel moves back and forth in time, and the way that Mario and Blanca eventually come to terms with their relationship is both unusual and memorable. Though this is a short novel, its style is appropriate to its length, and the limited point of view allows the reader to draw thematic conclusions which have meaning and importance. And when the night comes when Mario thinks he may be able to understand the “woman who was not Blanca,” the reader realizes how and why he does this and what it means for the future.


Vanishing
Vanishing
by Gerard Woodward
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars “I felt like an artist who had eaten his own still-life, though without the benefit of satiety.”, 11 May 2015
This review is from: Vanishing (Paperback)
In Vanishing, Gerard Woodward dramatically expands his scope and broadens his themes over his novels of the past, while narrowing his story to one main character whose life the reader follows from childhood through his arrest for espionage in the late days of World War II. Kenneth Brill, the main character, is in a military prison as the novel opens, as Davies, his interrogator from the Air Ministry, arrives to interview him in preparation for his trial for espionage. Brill has been caught painting a large number of landscapes of the farm area where he grew up, a few miles outside of London, where Brill’s family has farmed for generations. The Heath is about to become one of the biggest military air bases in Europe, and evidence from Brill’s past suggests to the Air Ministry that he may be using the paintings to send coded messages to the Nazis.

Within a few more pages, Davies lets Brill know that he is completely familiar with the rest of Brill’s “record” – “arrested in London in 1937, and charged with giving false information to the police. And again in 1939 – for an act of trespass in a royal household, the Palace, no less.” Like his father, who enjoyed doing conjuring tricks, Brill is an expert at making things (and sometimes people) disappear, and Davies accuses him of having an “unstickable,” even slippery, quality, having been expelled from a series of schools as both a student and a teacher. Even in the camouflage unit, he has never been in any one place for very long. His whole life seems to have been a series of “vanishings,” through disguise, camouflage, costuming, or staged events, and Davies now wants the whole story.

The “whole story” evolves through a series of complex flashbacks which may be the real story of Brill (or may not be) from his childhood to the start of his trial. By jockeying the scenes back and forth among several different places and times, Woodward keeps the suspense about Brill high while also developing themes. Several of Brill’s friends vanish for periods of time; buildings and landscapes vanish during the war; and some of Brill’s own carefully constructed self-images crumble. He “floats,” moving from place to place making no reasoned commitment on any level, an almost ghostly character who himself seems to vanish into the scenery.

Woodward’s structure of flashbacks through the many different phases of Brill’s life makes this novel work. War as a series of “vanishings” gives a new slant to that well-worn subject, however horrific it may be, and a big picture emerges for the reader, even as it eludes Brill’s own grasp. His unreliability as a narrator can be both frustrating and annoying, yet he emerges as a character for whom one feels some sympathy. Woodward does incorporate some of his trademark dark humor and ironies, though these are fewer than what are found in his earlier books. Ultimately, the novel trades the intensity and surprises of his shorter novels for the broader scope of the narrative and themes here, making this novel more panoramic and more fully developed but less wildly eccentric.


Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story (New York Review Books Classics)
Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story (New York Review Books Classics)
by Glenway Wescott
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars "Whatever had possessed me... to think of this Lucy - bloodthirsty brute with a face like a gouge...as significant of love?", 10 May 2015
The Pilgrim Hawk (peregrine falcon), in this thoughtful, often symbolic novel, serves here as the impetus to the action, and she is one of several "characters" who participate in a broad examination of love and passion, and love's closely related effects involving pain, pettiness, anger, self-doubt, and, in an ideal world, forgiveness. Ultimately, The Pilgrim Hawk considers the grandest theme of all - the relationship of love to personal freedom and whether it is possible to have one without the other, a theme for which the hawk becomes a foil. Regarded by critics as one of the best short novels of the twentieth century, The Pilgrim Hawk has been compared to William Faulkner's The Bear in its importance, though the foreign setting, the well-to-do American characters, and the visiting Irish gentry mitigate the raw realities of Faulkner's masterpiece in favor of a more mannered, more continental approach.

First published in 1940 and recently republished as a New York Review Book Classic, The Pilgrim Hawk takes place in a French country estate in the 1920s, as American Alwyn Tower, the young expatriate who narrates the novel, is visiting Alexandra Henry, in her late twenties, whose American family owns the estate. The action takes place during one day and begins when a wealthy Irish couple, Larry and Madeleine Cullen, arrive at the estate with their chauffeur and with Madeleine's latest passion, a young pilgrim hawk (peregrine falcon) named Lucy, who clings to Madeleine's leather-clad arm and who is completely dependent upon her for hood - and life.

Larry and Madeleine have serious problems at the heart of their relationship, and it comes as no surprise when Larry eventually becomes jealous of Lucy and the time Madeleine spends with her, especially when Lucy sleeps in their bedroom. Running parallel with this thread, is that of Alexandra's servants, the mature Jean and much younger Eva, whose relationship is threatened by the arrival of Ricketts, the Cullens' chauffeur. As the love themes and their associated tensions evolve, the reader realizes that all the characters are dealing with similar issues and that Lucy, the pilgrim hawk, is the only "character" who is emotionally unencumbered by the past.

In a clean, succinct style, Wescott manages to convey not only complex psychological issues but grand and well integrated themes. He keeps his reader off guard as he develops twists in the plot line which run counter to what has been expected and shows how little some of the characters understand about life and themselves. Ultimately, it is Lucy who is the one who most lives up to character, and it is in the descriptions of her behavior in which the author's style most reveals itself. As the novel winds down, conclusions regarding the other lovers in the novel also become clear. "Unrequited passion; romance put asunder by circumstances or mistakes; sexuality pretending to be love - all that is a matter of little consequence, a mere voluntary temporary uneasiness, compared with the long course of true love, especially marriage."


I Refuse
I Refuse
by Per Petterson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.88

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars “Your conscience is like a cogwheel, or even like a circular saw, whirring round, and its sharp teeth bite into your soul.”, 26 April 2015
This review is from: I Refuse (Hardcover)
I Refuse is, I believe, Norwegian author Per Petterson’s most powerful - even overwhelming - novel yet, a subtle novel which, even now, three days after I finished reading it, still has hold of my heart. I have read and reread passages just to be sure that they really do happen the way I thought they did, hoping that if I could just reread them one more time with a new vision that maybe I could keep the sad inevitabilities from happening in quite the same way, this time around. A novel about hardy and determined folk who live in Norway, I Refuse is full of stark reality, sensitive in its depictions of the way this reality affects the characters who live there.

Petterson begins the novel in 2006, as Jim, an unemployed man in his fifties who has been in a hospital, is on his way to go fishing, and he is shocked when someone in a new Mercedes recognizes him on the bridge. Tommy Berggren, his dearest friend from childhood, with whom he has had virtually no contact for almost thirty years has suddenly discovered him. The two have, in essence, “switched places” in terms of their lives and sense of self, and as Petterson revisits the pasts of jobless Jim and successful businessman Tommy Berggren, through flashbacks and several different points of view, the reader feels the dramatic contrasts which they and their families have had to confront.

The novel operates on many levels at once, but Petterson never loses sight of his major themes, all associated with one’s values and the actions they inspire – or prevent – over time. For some, the value lies in the refusal to do something, and for others it is in the refusal to believe something. For still others it is the refusal to admit something, while for the rest it is the refusal to accept something. Petterson has carefully crafted this novel, his talent seen even in his choice of the smallest details – the favorite books of Jim and Tommy, the book Tommy gives his sick guardian, the name of the restaurant he visits late in the book.

For Petterson, the inevitabilities of someone’s life journey are nowhere nearly as important as the journey itself, no matter how difficult or how bleak. Ultimately, the novel creates a world in which ordinary people keep on trying, even as they often fail. Ironies abound as the main characters are often tossed around wildly by fate, but somehow they continue on, even if they do not always make peace with their destinies or their decisions. In the stunning conclusion, Tommy’s older sister Siri visits Singapore and discovers something about a family member, then makes her own choice to accept or refuse what has found, a perfect conclusion to this profound and unforgettable novel.


The Tusk That Did the Damage
The Tusk That Did the Damage
by Tania James
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £10.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "He would come to be called the Gravedigger... the Master Executioner, the Jackfruit Freak...", 19 April 2015
In this stylistically unusual novel about the environmentally disastrous ivory trade in India, author Tania James looks at some of the many factors involved in this gory business, while keeping her focus on the individual, the small, the personal. To develop her broad message within a manageable scope, she creates three unique stories which evolve simultaneously - the third-person story of the Gravedigger, a lone elephant without a herd and without the grounding in elephant lore which young elephants need to survive; the story of a poacher, told by the poacher's younger brother Manu, who is naïve regarding his brother's motivations; and the story of a film-maker, in which cinematographer Emma Lewis describes her efforts to document the work of Dr. Ravi Varma, the head veterinarian of the Kavanar Wildlife Park, who works to rescue and rehabilitate orphaned elephant calves.

These stories develop in parallel during the novel, adding new information gradually and not necessarily in chronological order. Some time after an attack on the Gravedigger's herd, we learn that the Gravedigger is in chains twice a day and that he must perform for tourists, though he escapes every night in his dreams. Fascinating stories of elephant lore, such as how the elephant got its tusks, and how a boy turned into an elephant, add depth to the novel, and the vision of the elephant graveyard becomes a symbol. As the Gravedigger endures torture by one of his keepers, whose behavior recalls some of the Gravedigger's traumatic childhood memories, he is overcome by fury, and the novel works its way to its inevitable climax. Beautiful passages of natural beauty contrast with descriptions of the horrors of poaching to bring the novel to its conclusion.

Author Tania James walks a fine line here as she develops her story, wisely avoiding the problems of trying to recreate an elephant's point of view by telling the elephant's story in the third person and in short paragraphs of realistic detail. Brief sentences in a straightforward, uncomplicated sentence pattern reflect the point of view of an objective observer who is young - in keeping with the young age of the elephant - but the observations are trenchant, crucial to the development of the novel. The Poacher sections reflect both the thoughts of Manu, the younger brother of Jayan, and Manu's innocence of what older brother Jayan has been doing, which makes Jayan's behavior a personal betrayal. The Film-maker sections present narrative commentary and provide transitions among the various points of view in the total story.

These three separate points of view provide unusual depth to the subject of poaching without leading to didacticism and preachiness. By rotating the focus, the author keeps the suspense high, constantly adding new information to each individual story while leaving other mysteries undeveloped till the end. This is an imaginative presentation of the issue of poaching and ivory sales and the damage done to the environment for all species, both human and animal.


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