Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Elephant Song

After journeying through the Utopian vs. Dystopian saga of the Hunger Games, I have now entered the dimensions of the Wilbur Smith novels. As a welcoming ceremony for entering a new literary dimension I leaved through the authors Standalone novel, i.e., novel that doesn't form a part of any of his other series...Elephant Song......and I was pleasantly surprised.

So far I have only read a few literary works, young adult, paranormal, fantasy, detection, sci-fi and few more so coming across Elephant Song felt as a coming-of-age novel, as the book focuses on the reality of life and had a much more of adult content than what I had previously read. It is also the first book that I am having a difficulty to write about so bear with me as I try to give words to my thoughts.

Here is how the summary goes:

The rangers closed in, firing steadily. Within minutes all the adult animals were down. Only calves still raced in bewildered circles, stumbling over the bodies of the dead and dying. Six minutes after the first shot, a silence fell over the killing ground on Long Vlei...... 

In the blinding light of Zimbabwe's Chiwewe National Park, Dr Daniel Armstrong, world-famous TV naturalist, films the slaughter of a herd of elephant. In London, anthropologist Kelly Kinnear is forced into violent confrontation with the shareholders of the most powerful conglomerate in the City of London, warning them of the destruction of an African country.

Now the time has come to act. Together, Armstrong and Kinnear forge a passionate alliance - and begin the fight against the forces of greed, evil and corruption attacking a land they both would give their lives to save........Combining breathtaking realism and thrilling suspense, the world's master storyteller takes us on a journey deep into the heart of a wild, magnificent continent, threatened forever by the destructive hand of man.     

When I first bought the book from a book fair in the city, I had no inkling as to what I was about get myself into, Wikipedia pretty tells us the whole story so I had to forgo the urge to see the details about the book and prepared myself to be surprised because I had heard a lot about the particular talent of the Mr. Smith as a master story-teller. And I must say it was pretty much surprising, captivating, dark and all the harsh and cruel realities of life. 

It is pretty much clear as to what the story is about from the title, elephants. Specifically the majestic beasts of the African continent. The author takes us on a journey through his pen into the heart of the Africa, its jungles and towards all the hardships faced by its people on a day to day life but it is also a novel that points us to the increasing imbalance in nature resulting from not only economic gains but also by greed. Elephant Song is still an exceedingly well written novel with a well thought out storyline. Many of the scenes invoke rage and disgust, while the scenes such as that which gives the book its name create emotions of deep loss and sadness. This book is not an environmentalist reader, though it does have strong themes of it, nor is it a conservationist reader, though it has strong themes of that as well. 

Wilbur Smith through the medium of this book has defended the hunting of elephants and the controlled sale of game products - including ivory - as the only way to save Africa's wildlife. Writing in the an issue of African Safari Magazine, Smith plunges into the controversy over ivory sales which has pitted government, animal rights activists and conservationists against each other worldwide. The South African adventure-novelist says it was atrocious that Kenya burned several million rands (the South African currency) worth of tusks to support a total ban on trade in ivory in an attempt to end poaching. It was like taking money that could have been better utilized for conservation and setting fire to ithe writes.

The book also has strong undercurrent of corruption in the high offices. An African disease or the author's statement that if you have black governments managing their country exclusively for black tribes-people and wildlife becomes undesirable, then we're going to lose it. Smith's argument was that if you try to convince a subsistence farmer with a large family that the elephant or the lion is a beautiful animal and should be conserved, he will think you are out of your mind. The buffaloes graze on the grass that he needs for his cattle, a crocodile probably killed his grandmother and the leopard is killing his goats. You have to prove to him that the wildlife is of value and that it is worth his while to make some sacrifice. He says people will protect the animals if it can be shown that they will benefit from the money earned from hunting or sales of wildlife products. 

As to the characters of the story - it is clear that Dr Daniel Armstrong is the protagonist, so he gets a much more page time (can't write screen time because we are reviewing a book). He is seen developing throughout the book as opposed to the others. We first see him doing his job of shooting footage for his new independent “Africa – Dying” series. After a life changing experience we see his life turn about. It is vengeance that drives him to do the things he does for the precious loss of life very close to him. While Kelly Kinnear comes in very late toward the end but it is seen that she also plays a pivotal role in the confrontation that takes place towards the conclusion of the plot.     

It is a typical tale of economic gain balanced against the ecology and a bygone way of life. A novel says much of the times that we are in. Greed and personal gain at someone else's expense.  Clearly well defined by the blurb on it back cover by the daily mail - "Sex, money, ambition, fear and blood.......and emotional stampede


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