The Tusk That Did the Damage

Knopf. Mar. 2015. 248p. ISBN 9780385354127. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385354110. F
In India, the elephant can be many things: a source of money, a god, a protected species, and a threat to life and livelihood. In alternating chapters, James (Aerogrammes) gives us three perspectives on this giant beast. There is the view from an elephant himself, the Gravedigger, who as a baby witnessed the killing of his mother, was captured and trained, tortured and loved, and ultimately escaped to become a source of fear and hate for the villagers. There is the poacher, Jayan, who cannot resist the money to be made from the elephants' ivory tusks but whose wife, mother, and younger brother struggle to keep him on their rice farm, leading an upstanding life. And there are filmmakers Emma and Teddy, Americans who have come to India to make a documentary about the work that a veterinarian named Ravi does caring for the elephants and find that even ostensibly noble work has its shadow side.
VERDICT Fascinating facts and fiction about elephants are presented, and James's gift for the side-by-side portrayal of different cultures is evident here, as in her previous books. The complexity of the issues involved make this a perfect book club choice. [See Prepub Alert, 9/29/14.]
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