Author: Tania James
Title: The Tusk that Did the Damage
Publication Date: March 10, 2015
Publisher: Alfred Knopf (Random House)
Number of Pages: 221
Narrators: Manu, Emma, and the Gravedigger (third person limited)
Amazon.com Reviewer Grade: C+, Average; of the first 35 reviews, the average reader rating was 78.29%.
What’s It About?
A young elephant witnesses the brutal killing of its mother and becomes a local legend among the villagers in the Indian rainforest. Dubbed “The Gravedigger,” the elephant grows into a wild beast racing through villages and leaving people trampled to death in the aftermath.
Manu is a young farmer whose brother has served time in prison for poaching. Through his eyes, we catch a glimpse of the mixed feelings the villagers have toward the wild elephants who raid their villages, destroy their crops, and threaten their lives. Moreover, we get a sense of the distrust they feel toward the elephants’ advocates, the conservation wing of the government that seems to be somewhat in the pocket of the logging industry.
Meanwhile, Emma is a young college student who has come to India to film the exploits of an acclaimed wildlife veterinarian and elephant rescuer. As she gets to know the veterinarian and his work with the wildlife conservation group, she gets caught up in the moral complexities of wildlife poaching and protection. As she develops personal feelings for the veterinarian, her objectivity is put to the test and she must decide between multiple loyalties.
As the story draws to a close, the story of these three characters converge and the motivations of all are revealed–leaving a stew of moral uncertainty that highlights a pressing social issue in the developing world of India.
Should You Read It?
If you enjoy stories that raise complex moral and social issues, where there are groups with opposing incentives in place of good guys and bad guys, you’ll love this book. The various perspectives–the animal, the man, and the outsider–are captured masterfully by the narrative tone chosen by the author for those characters. The story moves slowly in parts, with descriptive imagery and poetic reflection taking up much of the narrative. In other places, dialogue shapes the narrative. There is a bit of mystery built around how the stories of each narrator will come together, but this novel is for the most part a literary work highlighting the “man vs nature” theme. If that sounds interesting to you, I would give it a read.
Links and References
Author Information: Website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads
Book Reviews: New York Times, Washington Post, Denver Post, San Francisco Gate
Purchase: Buy It On Amazon.com
Other Books By Tania James: Aerogrammes (2012), Atlas of Unknowns (2010)