Published in 2015, The Tusk that Did the Damage is the new book by Tania James, who also wrote Atlas of Unknowns, and Aerogrammes, a short story collection. This novel relies on three narrators, The Elephant, The Poacher, and The Filmmaker, who tell their stories in separate, succinct chapters throughout the book.
The first narrator is the main character, the elephant, who's known as the Gravedigger because he kills people, then "buries" them neatly. Next there is Manu, the (reluctant) poacher, who joins his older brother, Janay. Manu begins his saga with the story of his cousin, Raghu. In the third chapter, we meet Emma, the filmmaker, a young American who's filming a documentary of Dr. Ravi Varma, the head veterinarian at The Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, with the help of her friend, Teddy, another filmmaker. The characters in this novel are connected by the events that unfold in this absorbing and well-crafted story, which takes place in South India, and provides a startling picture of India and the perils of elephant poaching and the ivory trade.
"We watched the elephant rummage her trunk through the ditch. I'd been looking at elephants so long I forgot sometimes what a magical organ was the trunk, like an arm exploding out from the middle of the face, packed with enough muscle to knock down a tree, enough control in its tiny tapering finger to grip a lima bean. But even that miraculous limb couldn't save the baby. The mother stood there, withering before our eyes. Huge and forlorn, pugnacious and bewildered."
~ The Tusk that Did the Damage, Tania James
Since reading the Babar books as a child, I've been partial to elephants, although I also feel a bit sorry for them, due to their lumbering hugeness and "wrinkly skin". Overall, though, I find elephants to be exotic and fascinating creatures. In The Tusk that Did the Damage, the Gravedigger is a unique and particularly unforgettable pachyderm protagonist. In the very first chapter of the book, readers will feel compassion for this elephant when he loses his mother early in life. Through the character of the Gravedigger, the author depicts the life of an elephant, with keen descriptions of sensory perceptions that are realistic yet imaginative. Tania James provides a plethora of sensory details, and we can imagine how it might feel to actually be an elephant.
Though heart-breaking at times, this novel is beautifully written. The Tusk that Did the Damage brims with suspense, danger, humor, and it has some tender moments as well. The three narrators enhance the story, and give it breadth. You understand the plight of the elephant, as well as the plight of people trying to get by and make a living, however they can. I learned many things about elephants and poaching in this novel. I read an uncorrected proof, but even in this form, I found the book to be remarkable. Some of the descriptions are particularly intense and intriguing, and I've gone back to reread and re-experience parts. I relished reading every chapter, every page, and every line!
Thanks to the author, publisher, and TLC, I'm very pleased to offer a giveaway for a copy of The Tusk that Did the Damage (U.S.A. /Canada).
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Enter by 5 PM PST on Monday, April 20. One winner will be selected randomly and announced on Tuesday, April 21. Good luck!
Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for providing a copy of this book. For more reviews and other features, please visit the other stops on TLC's book blog tour for The Tusk that Did the Damage.