As I was reading Tania James’ novel I kept thinking about Nikita Lalwani’s “The Village” which I reviewed in December, 2013. In both novels the BBC sends journalists to India to do a documentary. In Ms. Lalwani’s book it is an investigative piece on a model open prison system. In Ms. James’ novel it is about a natural preserve for elephants. The distinction between the two is that there is more tension created between the crew and with locals in Ms. Lalwani’s book, whose plot is not revealed until the very end. Ms. James splits the novel into evolving chapters: The Elephant; the Poacher; and the Filmmaker. The elephant is the Gravedigger. Having lost his mother at a young age to poachers he is out for revenge as an adult. The poachers are both the poor farmers and the greedy. Each profit from the ivory trade and both are sought by the government. As the latter enforces and reduces poaching in the subject preserve it awards part of the preserve’s habitat to a lumber company. The filmmakers are two young documentary filmmakers trying to get noticed. There is an undercurrent of romantic involvement between the two. It is one-sided and up-ended by a relationship with one of the guardians of the preserve. Journalistic integrity is briefly an issue.
This is a short novel and meant for a summer read. It is slightly informative about elephants, the local Indian culture and the tension between preserves and farmers. It is not meant to be a literary work, although the prose is fast-moving and readable. It is predictable in plot, but if you are looking for a quick read with a wildlife protection theme it is suitable.