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Elephas Maximus: A Portrait of the Indian Elephantby Stephen Alter
Synopses & Reviews
“Having observed my fair share of elephants, Ive found them to be almost ineffably heart-wrenching. So I salute Stephen Alter for persisting, prevailing in the task. These radiant, galumphing, expressive animals are vanishing in the wild. But Alter has been to see them and telepathize.” - Edward Hoagland
One morning in Delhi I watched two tame elephants standing side by side — a tusker and a cow. They leaned against each other, rubbing flanks and exchanging caresses with their trunks. Decorated by their owners and hired out for the night, these elephants provide an auspicious presence at wedding receptions. The celebrations were long over, though, and in the bright morning sunshine the two looked like a pair of exhausted partygoers. The female nuzzled the male, who flapped his ears contentedly as she pressed her head against his shoulder. They swayed together for a few moments, caught up in their own internal tempo, ignoring everyone around them. Then with sensuous intimacy, the tusker curled his trunk and brushed the female's cheek before he put the end in her mouth. For several seconds she held the tip of his trunk between her lips, as close to a kiss as an elephant can come.
Book News Annotation:
Fiction and non-fiction writer Alter (currently Massachusetts Institute of Technology) offers an homage to the species and an alarm call for its protection. He draws on his series of journeys to different parts of India in 2001-02 as well as myth, art, literature, and some biology and natural history.
Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Revered in Indian religion as the source of life, respected in Indian culture as a bringer of good fortune, and coveted by poachers for its ivory tusks, the majestic Asian elephant has lived, worked, and even fought side by side with humans for more than four thousand years. Stephen Alter first encountered Elephas maximus when he was a child. Now he has traveled to every corner of India to create an unabashed celebration of these compelling, powerful creatures.
Alter's search takes him from the depths of wildlife preserves to a tempting elephant auction, from a dazzling festival dedicated to Ganesha the elephant-headed god to a remote valley filled with ancient carvings of the revered animals. He finds conservationists fighting to protect the elephants habitat, mahouts who are as close to their elephants as they are to their own families, and even ivory poachers, whose ongoing assault on the animals may be contributing to the evolution of tuskless males. Tracking the elephant in history, art, religion, and folklore, Alter draws a vivid, gorgeously written portrait of its past and its troubled present while offering hope for its future.
Revered in Indian religion and culture, coveted for its ivory tusks, the majestic Asian elephant has captured the fascination of humans for more than four thousand years. In an effort to shed light on this regal animal and its unique relationship with humankind, author Stephen Alter traveled around the world to explore its natural home and its place in history and myth.
Alter's search takes him from the depths of wildlife preserves, to a tempting elephant auction, to a dazzling festival dedicated to Ganesha the elephant-headed god. Elephas maximus is as important to modern India as it was centuries ago. Yet conservationists are fighting to preserve its endangered habitat as settlements expand, and ivory poaching has threatened generations of elephants until tuskless males may be all that survive. Charting the elephant in history, art, religion, and folklore, Alter draws a vivid, gorgeously written portrait of its past and its troubled present while offering hope for its future.
About the Author
STEPHEN ALTER is the author of four novels and three books of nonfiction. He is a writer-in-residence at MIT and lives in Reading, Massachusetts.
Table of Contents
On the Origin of Elephants
Remover of Obstacles
Questions of Captivity
Murals, Monoliths, and Miniatures
Power and Pomp
What Our Readers Are Saying
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