The White Bone: A Novel
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A thrilling journey into the minds of African elephants as they struggle to survive.
If, as many recent nonfiction bestsellers have revealed, animals possess emotions and awareness, they must also have stories. In The White Bone, a novel imagined entirely from the perspective of African elephants, Barbara Gowdy creates a world whole and separate that yet illuminates our own.
For years, young Mud and her family have roamed the high grasses, swamps, and deserts of the sub-Sahara. Now the earth is scorched by drought, and the mutilated bodies of family and friends lie scattered on the ground, shot down by ivory hunters. Nothing-not the once familiar terrain, or the age-old rhythms of life, or even memory itself-seems reliable anymore. Yet a slim prophecy of hope is passed on from water hole to water hole: the sacred white bone of legend will point the elephants toward the Safe Place. And so begins a quest through Africa's vast and perilous plains-until at last the survivors face a decisive trial of loyalty and courage.
In The White Bone, Barbara Gowdy performs a feat of imagination virtually unparalleled in modern fiction. Plunged into an alien landscape, we orient ourselves in elephant time, elephant space, elephant consciousness and begin to feel, as Gowdy puts it, "what it would be like to be that big and gentle, to be that imperiled, and to have that prodigious memory."
dribbling egg-sized drops that smoked as they hit the stubble and discharged an odour so sharp Tall Time couldn’t fathom how the big bull had taken him by surprise. “Very clumsy of me,” he murmured. “Entirely my fault.” He turned away but Torrent bellowed, “I’ve been wanting to talk to you!” Tall Time looked over his shoulder. The big bull folded his ears and rumbled something menacing and then threw up his great head in which his eyes flew, mad and murderous. Tall Time ran. “Stop!” Torrent
over having responded to She-Screams. But She-Snorts, by the agitated twirling of her trunk, is also responding to the banished cow. Mud, too… . Mud breathes, “Of course.” “Go back a ways,” She-Snorts tells She-Soothes. “You and Bent.” The nurse cow hesitates. “Go on!” She-Snorts snaps, and She-Soothes tucks her trunk under Bent and hauls him five, six paces. With small jogs of her head Me-Me tracks his retreat but otherwise doesn’t move. “Everybody else keep still,” She-Snorts rumbles. By
head, and Tall Time lurches out of the way. “Difficult to spew,” Torrent mutters. He hangs his trunk over his left tusk. “A sheet of heat.” “I am Tall Time,” Tall Time tries again. “Son of She-Bellows-And-Bellows of the She-B’s-And-B’s. Tall Time the Link Bull.” “They do that,” Torrent says, “and then they die.” There is no breeze, not down here, and the odours of rot and mud hover in separate, motionless layers. Tall Time turns in a circle. Hundreds of days of searching to end up in this
him and then the four of them set off. It is a slow descent, what with Bent’s feeble knees and her bad leg. When they are halfway down, a troop of baboons tumbles past them and they have a moment of panic before they realize that the baboons aren’t boulders. At the bottom is a ditch and the wreckage of the fallen acacias Mud saw in her vision. The body is visible from here, and as they get closer to it Mud is surprised by sadness. Last night there was only incomprehension and horror and an older
dead.” “What’s done is done,” Mud thinks. They encircle and fondle the carcass, stinking and eyeless though it is, smeared with vulture dung and gouted with flies and spilling over with maggots though it is. Behind them, Me Me dozes at the termite mound into which, when they arrived, a horde of mongooses fled. The tusks have almost fallen out of their sockets. The narrow skull is unrecognizable under its rag of skin. “Afloat upon The Eternal Shoreless Water,” the nurse cow said when they