A brilliant little book by a great storyteller. This the story of Gravedigger, the elephant and the poachers and innocents who work in the poaching rings whose lives are torn apart by the trade and also of a young filmmaker who tries to make sense of it all. Atmospheric and exciting.
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A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
The Tusk That Did the Damage is an utterly contemporary story about an ancient and majestic elephant, and his dangerous connection to the land and the people around him. Orphaned by poachers as a calf and sold into a life of labor, Gravedigger has broken free of his chains and is terrorizing the South Indian countryside. Caught up in the violence are the studious younger son of a rice farmer drawn into the sordid world of poaching; and a young American documentary filmmaker engaged in a risky affair with the veterinarian who is her subject. In three intertwined storylines--one of them narrated by the elephant himself--Tania James crafts a heartbreaking tale of the ivory trade, exploring the porous boundary between conservation and corruption. It is a wrenching exploration of love and betrayal, duty and loyalty, and the vexed relationship between man and nature.
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
The Tusk That Did the Damage is an utterly contemporary story about an ancient and majestic elephant, and his dangerous connection to the land and the people around him. Orphaned by poachers as a calf and sold into a life of labor, Gravedigger has broken free of his chains and is terrorizing the South Indian countryside. Caught up in the violence are the studious younger son of a rice farmer drawn into the sordid world of poaching; and a young American documentary filmmaker engaged in a risky affair with the veterinarian who is her subject. In three intertwined storylines—one of them narrated by the elephant himself—Tania James crafts a heartbreaking tale of the ivory trade, exploring the porous boundary between conservation and corruption. It is a wrenching exploration of love and betrayal, duty and loyalty, and the vexed relationship between man and nature.
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
|Number of Pages|
The Tusk That Did the Damage
|Assembled Product Dimensions (L x W x H)|
8.00 x 5.10 x 0.70 Inches
A brilliant little boo...
I remember when the sp...
I remember when the spotted owl and Pacific Coast loggers were in the news many years ago. Conservationists wanted to stop loggers cutting down the old growth habitat of the spotted owls; they were horrified that lumber companies were being allowed to drive the spotted owl that much closer to the brink of extinction. Loggers contended that their livelihoods depended on the timbering and were outraged that owls were generating so much more sympathy than human beings. Human beings in conflict with nature occurs all over the world. Sometimes the argument is over the fate of habitats and sometimes the argument is over the killing of particular creatures for profit. Elephants, an example of the latter, are under siege by poachers who want to harvest their tusks for the lucrative black market ivory trade. Tania James' new novel, The Tusk That Did the Damage, centers around the casualties of poaching, the elephants, the conservationists, and the poachers themselves. The triple stranded novel opens on a baby elephant who is still dependent on his mother. When poachers track the elephant herd and kill one of the two older males for his tusks, the baby's mother is also killed and her tail, the tail that the baby held onto while walking, the tail that the baby knew as a connection to his mother, is cut off to be sold as a totem or talisman. The tiny elephant, traumatized by the loss of his mother, is subsequently raised by humans, trained, and used in ceremonies. Eventually breaking free of his chains and escaping his captors, the few who understood him as well as those who abused him, he becomes the feared elephant known as the Gravedigger, randomly killing people but then burying them reverently. Manu is a young man in Southern India living close to poverty on the edge of the Kanavar Wildlife Park. He is the son of a farmer, expected to excel in school and be more than his father, who struggled to scrape a living from their land. His cousin died when the hut he was staying in to guard the fields from the elephants who would devastate the crops was trampled by the famous and feared Gravedigger. Manu feels incredibly guilty over his cousin's death because he should have been in the hut too, sharing the watch. Generally a responsible young man, Manu regrets what he sees as his failure and so he takes his mother's request to watch out for his older brother Jayan very seriously after she discovers that Jayan is involved in unsavory business. That business turns out to be poaching and Manu will become a reluctant participant in it as well as he tries to do right by his brother. Emma is a documentary filmmaker who, with her best friend and fellow filmmaker, Teddy, has come to India to try and make her name creating a film about Dr. Ravi Varma, an elephant and wildlife veterinarian. As Emma and Teddy take footage of orphan elephants being raised at the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center and of Ravi at work, Emma finds herself developing a crush on Ravi while Teddy is interested in Emma, both emotional situations risking the integrity and objectivity of the film with Emma's being the greater risk. Emma and Manu tell their strands of the story in first person while the chapters centered on the Gravedigger are in third person limited omniscient. The different plot lines seem only marginally connected to start but they eventually twine themselves together in a tightly written and focused tale. This is not a story that demonizes, offering a balanced approach to the terrible problem of the lucrative ivory trade and to the horrific lives that elephants in captivity lead. The reader feels empathy for both the mentally scarred Gravedigger and for the poor and loyal Manu. The anthropomorphizing of the Gravedigger allows the reader to see firsthand the effect of poaching and a life in captivity on an elephant. Manu's chapters offer insight into the dire financial considerations behind poaching, at least at a low level, and the suffering that the local people endure when the elephants are driven out of their traditional habitat and forced to forage through the scant crops meant to sustain the villagers. Emma's fervent beliefs about conservation and the hero worship of those who work in the field come from the perspective of a complete outsider who isn't aware of the conflict between man and nature; she's a person who sees things entirely in black and white. But her relationship with Ravi allows her access to the surprising and sometimes morally suspect trade-offs that come in real life, adding yet another dimension to the tale. The novel is a short one but powerful for all that. The chapters rotating between the three different narrations allow the plot to start slowly and build to a frantic crescendo. The issue of conservation is far more complicated than it seems on the surface, a fact that James has captured beautifully here. Imbuing the Gravedigger with human-like emotions and motivations allows her to suppose similar feelings of loyalty and betrayal in both humans and mammal, tugging at the readers' heartstrings. As the tension rises, the stories of the three main characters come together resulting in an inevitable confrontation. There can be no hopeful conclusion to the tale, not while corruption and conservation are bedfellows and not while man and beast fight for their own survival at the expense of the other. But James' novel can document the carnage and mourn the casualties of the ongoing battle. This is a novel that will make the reader think long after the last page is turned.
The Tusk That Did the ...
The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James is a highly recommended novel set in southern India, that covers the illegal poaching of ivory through three unique viewpoints. These three viewpoints are presented in alternating chapters.The first viewpoint is that of the elephant which the villagers now call the Gravedigger. He witnesses the killing of his mother, after which he is captured, loved, trained, and abused. He later escapes, which is when he becomes The Gravedigger and is a source of fear and hatred.The second viewpoint is the poacher, Jayan. This section is narrated by his younger brother Manu, who has been asked to look after his older brother. Jayan is attracted to the money he can make through poaching, although he tries to hide his illegal activities from his family at first. They would prefer he worked hard at farming. Gravedigger has already killed one member of their family.The third viewpoint is that of the filmmakers, specifically Emma. Emma and Teddy are Americans in India to film a documentary about a vet named Ravi at an elephant sanctuary. They are trying to capture on film his technique for reuniting baby elephants with their mothers, who are known to disown babies who smell of human contact. A love triangle develops between the three.James succeeds admirably in the chapters told through Gravedigger's point of view. I was sobbing like a baby over some of these sections, which are gruesome and heartbreaking. She brilliantly captures how a sentient being would react and be traumatized by seeing their mother killed, and then being captured and trained by the same kind of beings who did the act. She also evokes the sensory world of an animal and the resulting confusion his capture would cause. These are the strongest chapters in the book.Although not quite as compelling, the chapters told through the poachers point of view are certainly enlightening. The financial reality of poverty and the money that can be made through poaching is brought out, as well as the problem of elephants destroying the farmer's crops. Certainly the actual poachers are low on the list of those who benefit from their illegal acts. The least successful chapters are those of the filmmakers. James is an excellent writer and the prose flows beautifully, managing to portray each individual, their struggles, pain, and confusion, along with the questions of morality the narrative begs we ask. She manages to capture the clash of man and nature in an individualized way, but, in the end, it is also a rather depressing tale.Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes.
Sad, Sad, Sad, Book. ...
Sad, Sad, Sad, Book. The premise, telling the story from different views, was wonderful. Maybe it is because I come from a back ground in the Humane Societies, but I found it beyond cruel. The Elephant sections were what I found easier to take than the others. Again a sad read and extremely choppy and difficult to read.
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