From the critically acclaimed author of Atlas of Unknowns and Aerogrammes, a tour de force set in South India that plumbs the moral complexities of the ivory trade through the eyes of a poacher, a documentary filmmaker, and, in a feat of audacious imagination, an infamous elephant known as the Gravedigger.
“The Tusk That Did the Damage is one of the most unusual and affecting books I’ve read in a long time. Narrated by a poacher, a filmmaker, and, most brilliantly, an elephant, this is a compulsively readable, devastating novel.” —Jonathan Safran Foer
“The Tusk That Did the Damage is a novel of great moral intensity, with the pacing of a thriller. Everyone is implicated. Everyone is righteous. Tania James’ gift, her genius, is to turn this scenario into an occasion for grace.” —Julie Otsuka
“The Tusk that Did the Damage is spectacular, a pinwheeling multi-perspectival novel with a cast that includes my favorite character of recent memory, ‘the Gravedigger,’ an orphaned homicidal elephant. Tania James is one of our best writers, and here she is at the height of her powers: brilliant, hilarious, capable of the most astonishing cross-cultural interspecies ventriloquies and acrobatic leaps of empathy. You will read this ravishing novel in an afternoon and immediately want to press it on your favorite people.” —Karen Russell
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"The world is changing. If it was not changing, it would not be the world."
A story of the Indian Elephant ivory trade told through the eyes of an elephant deemed The Gravedigger, two documentary filmmakers, Teddy and Emma and brothers Jayan, an accomplished poacher and Manu, a reluctant poacher. The Gravedigger was pulled away from his dead mother when he was a calf and sold into a life of labor and entertainment for people. When he breaks his bonds, The Gravedigger returns to the wild, but when he comes across people he kills and then solemnly buries them. Teddy and Emma are young filmmakers hoping to make a break with a documentary about Ravi, a veterinarian and his ability to rehabilitate elephant calves. Jayan and Manu are sons of a drunken rice farmer. As Jayan finds his purpose in the poaching world, he brings in his wary brother into the dangerous trade.
The Tusk That Did The Damage proved to be an intense and emotional book. As I read from each point of view, small chunks of a much larger story were pieced together to see how the lives of an Elephant, village poachers, a documentary film crew and an elephant sanctuary caretaker are pulled together. I had no idea where this story was going, but I always expect elephant stories to be sad. This story was tragic, but not in the ways I was expecting. The writing was very unique and each point of view held their own, as the points of view switched from one story to the next there was a sense of urgency built up that kept me from putting the book down. I was most captivated by The Gravediggers narrative, as an elephant who suffers tragedy at the hands of humans and then hands it back with the need to bury the dead; The Gravedigger's voice compelled me as the voice of an animal gives feelings and emotions to a human world. Though the very beginning felt a little choppy and confusing to me with quickly changing stories and point of view, the stories were quickly pulled together for an amazing and unique read.
This book was received for free in return for an honest review.
TANIA JAMES is the author of the novel Atlas of Unknowns and the short-story collection Aerogrammes. Her fiction has appeared in Boston Review, Granta, Guernica, One Story, A Public Space, and The Kenyon Review. She lives in Washington, DC.