“Should win Tania James praise” – The Tusk that Did the Damage by Tania James

tttdtdThe Tusk that Did the Damage is told in three distinct voices: Emma, a young American who has come to India to make a documentary about the dynamic veterinarian who runs Kavanar Wildlife Park, Jayan a young poacher hoping to escape from impoverishment and Gravedigger the elephant who bears the psychological and physical scars of human interaction.

This novel takes us into the rather murky world of animal conservation in Southern India. On the surface the authorities are engaging in a rather honourable fight against ivory poachers who over the years have decimated the local elephant. While at the same time timber companies are in league with forest wardens allowing them to circumvent laws and cut down rosewood and teak trees for profit.

Each of the three main characters are unique and well presented though perhaps James is at her best when she writes from the point of view of the elephant, Gravedigger. We learn firsthand of his emotions when as a young calf he witnessing the death of his mother at the hands ivory poachers. He watches helpless as the poachers remove his mothers tusks and leave her corpse to rot by the side of a ditch. It is a incident with a drunk elephant keeper which causes him to escape into the jungle living a feral life and earning the nickname Gravedigger.

Throughout the novel it is easy to see that James knows India well. She paints the lives of the ordinary people and the searing poverty which pushes some toward a life of poaching and drudgery with ease.

This novel is a window into world where we witness the forces which propel locals toward illegal activities, in this case ivory poaching. We observe witless westerners with all their cultural hang-ups trying to come to grips with what to them is an alien and foreign culture. Finally, and most importantly, there is the elephant, Gravedigger. Feared by locals, tormented by memory, an animal bound to spend its life on the periphery scorned, reviled and hated.

Any Cop?: Told in a language that is both lyrical and stark The Tusk that did the Damage should win Tania James praise and laurels from those readers who long for a more penetrating look at environmental issues and the moral questions which accompany them.

 

Joe Phelan


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