To the Elephant Graveyard

Tarquin Hall, Author
Tarquin Hall, Author Atlantic Monthly Press $24 (260p) ISBN 978-0-87113-817-0
Reviewed on: 09/04/2000
Release date: 09/01/2000
Paperback - 260 pages - 978-0-8021-3835-4
Hardcover - 266 pages - 978-0-7195-6158-0
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Equal parts travel story and adventure tale, this volume leads readers on a meandering journey through the farthest reaching corners of India. Hall, a Gen-X British journalist who published his first book, Mercenaries, Missionaries and Misfits, when he was 23, fills his book with wildlife preserves, rebel factions, farmers, indigent elephant caretakers (mahouts) and British holdovers from the days of the Raj. Working as an AP reporter, the author gets a lead for an article: an elephant is rampaging through Assam, India, inexplicably murdering the inhabitants of small villages. One mahout recounts how sick elephants are led into the forest where the elephants themselves pick herbs. The mahouts then prepare and apply the herbs, and in this way the elephants heal themselves. For Hall, this ritual raises many questions about the elephants: How intelligent are they? How compassionate? How murderous? Much of this book is filled with Hall's mercurial attitudes toward the elephant (he flip-flops between wanting the killer elephant placed on a reserve safe from humans and wanting the beast dead) and the Indian people he meets. His story is a page-turning detective tale that recounts how the motley group of journalists, mahouts and government-employed hunters stalked the killer elephant through the wild territory of India. (Sept.)
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