Warning: this post contains spoilers for Lawrence Anthony’s The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild
Like I’ve said, I try to read broadly, but this book was pretty broad even for me. It’s a nonfiction memoir type recollection about someone who buys a wildlife reserve in Africa, and adopts a herd of semi-renegade elephants. There are some really interesting bits, especially for someone who hasn’t been to Africa, and then there are some parts that made me raise an eyebrow. So let’s get into the review, shall we?
As a story about rehabilitating an elephant herd, caring for wildlife, and understanding our surroundings, this was a valuable insight into a very different life. It wasn’t just about learning to interact with elephants; it was also about learning to interact with the local tribes, customs, and belief systems that made the local politics complicated. For the most part, the author sets himself up as a rational, western-thinking individual looking to advance his wildlife preservation priorities in the African bush by actually making it worthwhile for the people who already live there. And then there are the times that he becomes convinced that an evil spirit is inhabiting a pile of boulders. And that elephants can communicate with each other across the entire continent instantly. Now, I know there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Horatio’s philosophy, but I find that a little hard to swallow.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for respecting others’ beliefs. It was more the way that the author set himself up as a skeptical, rational thinker, and then was convinced by a “gut feeling” that the pile of boulders really was cursed that bothered me, than the fact that he was convinced at all. I have to admit that it made me somewhat less receptive to the entire book, because I could not longer see the writer as a reliable narrator. That can be a valuable tool for fiction writing, but it’s really not a good idea if you’re writing nonfiction.
Would I recommend this book? I’m not entirely sure. It’s a quick read, so I think that I might, but I certainly wouldn’t say that you should go out of your way to read it.