The Tusk That Did the Damage — Book Review


That is because of the tusk, the boy said, his eyes watering. It was the tusk that did the damage. What if I return it? Can’t I reverse the curse?

Oh my sweet stupid son, there is no reversing a curse, everyone knows that. But who says we cannot turn this curse into a blessing?

Tania James, The Tusk That Did the Damage

In the 1990s, a rogue elephant terrorized the countryside of northeastern India, killing 38 people. At first, journalist Tarquin Hall thought the reports of the elephant’s vengeful and cruel behavior were “implausible”:

“Babar is riding happily on his mother’s back when a wicked hunter, hidden behind some bushes, shoots at them.”

Elephants do not breathe smoke and fire, they are not gods, and they certainly do not go around in the middle of the night knocking down people’s homes and singling out particular human beings for premeditated murder. Elephants are kindly, intelligent, generally good-natured creatures, like Babar and Dumbo.

Hall wrote a book, To the Elephant Graveyard, about the Indian government’s hunt for the murderous elephant and the changing relationship between human beings and elephants caused by the destruction of natural habitats. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Tania James explains how Hall’s book provided inspiration for The Tusk That Did the Damage, her novel about elephant poaching in southern India:

9780802138354I was reading a nonfiction book called To the Elephant Graveyard . . . and it makes mention of a real-life elephant that used to bury its victims. The elephant would carry the body for miles beforehand, and in some cases, if people tried to take the body away, he would bring it back. Or he would guard the burial site . . .There was something kind of human in its madness, I guess, and I know this is kind of a human-centric way of thinking about it, but there was something recognizable about that madness that made me want to know where that elephant had come from. I wanted to know the tipping point that led to a life as a violent rogue elephant.

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