Book review: “The Tusk That Did The Damage,” by Tania James
This is one of the most interesting and heartbreaking reads I’ve had in quite some time. It is a story about elephant poaching in India and the three protagonists who tell the story. It is beguiling how the three all have their reasons for the actions they’ve chosen to take, and somehow, as a reader, you end up understanding how they got to where they are. It provides us an interesting view into what the world at large has deemed unacceptable. From afar, we can question their motives, but there are always two sides to any story.
The characters are the Elephant, an orphaned, rogue elephant who has become homicidal; the Poacher — a naïve young man who idolizes his older brother; and the Filmmaker — a documentarian from America. I started reading this book unsure of what I would find and a little bit apprehensive, but immediately, I was captivated by the story of the elephant, long before he became the “Gravedigger.” Within the first couple pages, I was transported to the memory of a baby elephant watching his mother die for nothing more than her tail. I don’t know how elephants think, but I have to say, I found James’ approach completely believable. The chapters, told through Gravedigger’s memories, were straightforward and direct; there were no complicated thoughts or sentences. Everything was very staccato, and in a strange way, this helped to develop my love for Gravedigger and his character. I was in tears after the first two pages and thanking the author for making my conscious self delve into a whole new character simply to pull me away from the heartache I was feeling for Gravedigger.
The Poacher chapters are told from the point of view of Manu, a young boy with a naïve outlook on life He works on his family farm and completely loves his older brother. I found it interesting to think that poaching was not always about getting money — though this goal fueled many poachers — but rather sometimes about protecting crop fields. Manu had more than either of these fueling him, with the death of his best friend and cousin being another tally on the Gravedigger’s list.
Then there is the Filmmaker. She and her partner had traveled to India to do a study on a national park protecting elephants and reuniting separated calves with their mothers. This had been an unheard of practice, and the chance to get it on film was too alluring. These chapters add narrative commentary to the book and tie the three perspectives together. The saucy charm of a fling with the head veterinarian makes these chapters that much more appealing.
Overall, I found Tania James’ book to be beautiful, captivating, full of powerful imagery and surprisingly non-judgmental. She has done a fabulous job creating her characters and perspectives. Tusk would be an excellent book club read.
Sydney Veldhuizen is a bookseller at Off the Beaten Path.
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