Gowdy, the prodigiously talented Canadian author who caused a stir with Mister Sandman and We So Seldom Look on Love, writes with such immediacy and vigor that she can take a reader almost anywhere. In this novel, however, she has chosen to inhabit the minds of a series of elephants in African desert country, and despite her great skill and the colossal effort of imaginative empathy it must have entailed, her book is hard going. For a start, as in one of those vast generational sagas, there are endless family trees to sort out, and since the elephant families are whimsically named, always after the matriarchal leaders (the She-S's, the She-B's-And-B's, etc.), the relationships are difficult to come to grips with. The book is a series of quests, carried out against the fierce odds of a frightful drought and the occasional murderous intervention of ivory-seeking ""hind-leggers."" Little Mud, who has visions, is crippled and seeking her family; Date Bed, a ""mind talker"" shot in an ambush and given up for dead, is being sought by her family; all are seeking the Safe Place, a sort of elephant heaven that is located by throwing the iconic White Bone so that it points in the right direction. There is a great deal of interesting elephant lore, about the nature of their fabulous memory, their scenting and tracking skills, their eating, drinking and fornicating habits. Without being overly anthropomorphic, Gowdy manages to individualize a number of them as having human-scale emotions, even humor; and they have religious songs (lauding the She) that sound wonderfully like Victorian hymns. But despite her skills--perhaps even because of them--the reader is disappointed that so talented a writer could have exerted so much effort on so unpromising a subject. 50,000 first printing; BOMC selection; author tour. (May)
Reviewed on: 05/03/1999 Release date: 05/01/1999 Genre: Fiction
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