A thrilling journey into the minds of African elephants as they struggle to survive.
If, as many recent nonfiction bestsellers have revealed, animals possess emotions and awareness, they must also have stories. In The White Bone, a novel imagined entirely from the perspective of African elephants, Barbara Gowdy creates a world whole and separate that yet illuminates our own.
For years, young Mud and her family have roamed the high grasses, swamps, and deserts of the sub-Sahara. Now the earth is scorched by drought, and the mutilated bodies of family and friends lie scattered on the ground, shot down by ivory hunters. Nothing-not the once familiar terrain, or the age-old rhythms of life, or even memory itself-seems reliable anymore. Yet a slim prophecy of hope is passed on from water hole to water hole: the sacred white bone of legend will point the elephants toward the Safe Place. And so begins a quest through Africa's vast and perilous plains-until at last the survivors face a decisive trial of loyalty and courage.
In The White Bone, Barbara Gowdy performs a feat of imagination virtually unparalleled in modern fiction. Plunged into an alien landscape, we orient ourselves in elephant time, elephant space, elephant consciousness and begin to feel, as Gowdy puts it, "what it would be like to be that big and gentle, to be that imperiled, and to have that prodigious memory."
The thoughts and ideas of elephantsa different tack to take with a novel, yet this is the basic premise of this story. The protagonist, Mud, is a cow (female) elephant. She is part of an adopted family because her mother died at her birth. We meet Mud and the other elephants as they head into some terrible times. They must face a drought as well as vicious hindleggers (humans). Many of Mud's family are mercilessly slaughtered for their tusks; other elephant families are similarly decimated. Mud and other survivors try to find each other, and to locate water and food. They are also on a quest for the "safe place." The latter is some mysterious locale where they can live in peace without fear from predators. A white bone tossed in the air will show them the way to this place. As the elephants wander alone and in groups, the author offers insights into their thoughts, feelings and abilities. She did quite a bit of research and does provide views of how elephants live. It is a bit disjointed and often hard to keep track of the various elephants since they all seem to have two names. Detailed family trees are given, along with a glossary and a map of the area. KLIATT Codes: SARecommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 1998, St. Martin's/Picador, 329p, 21cm, $14.00. Ages 16 to adult. Reviewer: Robin S. Holab-Abelman; Libn., US Court, Mobile, AL, September 2000 (Vol. 34 No. 5)