Monday, June 27, 2016
MMGM: What Elephants Know by Eric Dinerstein
ABOUT THE BOOK
Abandoned in the jungle of the Nepalese Borderlands, two-year-old Nandu is found living under the protective watch of a pack of wild dogs. From his mysterious beginnings, fate delivers him to the King's elephant stable, where he is raised by unlikely parents-the wise head of the stable, Subba-sahib, and Devi Kali, a fierce and affectionate female elephant.
When the king's government threatens to close the stable, Nandu, now twelve, searches for a way to save his family and community. A plan to reinvent the elephant stable could be the answer. But to succeed, they'll need a great tusker. Their future is in Nandu's hands as he sets out to find a bull elephant and bring him back to the Borderlands.
In simple poetic prose, author Eric Dinerstein brings to life Nepal's breathtaking jungle wildlife and rural culture, as seen through the eyes of a young outcast, struggling to find his place in the world.
I was intrigued by the premise of this book. And because I have a great love of children's books set in other places, I knew I needed to read this one. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. Dinerstein has done a fabulous job of creating not only the setting, but the characters and plot. The setting is so beautifully described that I would have guessed that the author had actually been there even if I hadn't already known that he had. The author's love for the land of Nepal shines through. I loved reading about the jungle and the elephant stable that Nandu loves so much. Like Mowgli in Kipling's The Jungle Book, Nandu was found by the local dhole (wild dogs) and protected until the stable master found and adopted him. So, while Nandu was welcomed by the Subba-sahib and treated as his son, he looks different than those around him, and he feels like he doesn't fully belong. The feeling grows stronger when he goes off to boarding school. Not only do the Hindu boys not welcome him, but he is homesick for his father, home, and mother elephant, Devi Kali. But he does develop a connection to one of his teachers, Father Audry, who teaches Nandu about being a naturalist. But when the elephant stable is to be closed, Nandu must work with his adopted father and his new friends to save it before he loses what he prizes most.
Dinerstein has done a fabulous job of creating a book that opened my eyes to what life is like on the other side of the world. Nandu is a character that I immediately felt kinship to as he struggles to find his destiny. And while the fate of the elephant stable provides the major plot point, there are several other subplots that all come together beautifully by the end. I also greatly appreciated the respect that Dinerstein pays to the different religions in this book and the care he took to get it right, going so far as to have some of his Nepalese acquaintances check the content for accuracy. I enjoyed reading about Dinerstein's own adventures in Nepal in the author's note and acknowledgements. In addition to the characterization, plotting, and setting, the writing is fabulous as well. Dinerstein has created a great book that I heartily recommend to those who want to catch a glimpse of a different way of life. One of my favorite books of the year.