Synopses & Reviews
From the author of Smilla's Sense of Snow
, an epic novel about faith and the magic of everyday life.
Told from the precocious perspective of fourteen-year-old Peter, The Elephant Keepers' Children is about three siblings and how they deal with life alongside their eccentric parents. Peter's father is a vicar, his mother is an artisan, and both are equally and profoundly devout. The family lives on the (fictional) island of Finø, where people of all religious faiths coexist peacefully. Yet, nothing is at it seems.
When Peter's parents suddenly go missing, Peter and his siblings fear the worst — has their parents' relentless quest to boost church attendance finally put them in danger? Told with poignancy and humor, The Elephant Keepers' Children is a fascinating exploration of fundamentalism versus spiritual freedom, the vicissitudes of romantic and familial love, and the triumph of the human spirit.
“A picaresque tale that probes society’s little hypocrisies while offering an original array of characters. At first glance, an utterly fun, absorbing read.” Library Journal
"Told with poignancy and humor, The Elephant Keepers' Children is a fascinating exploration of fundamentalism versus spiritual freedom, the vicissitudes of romantic and familial love, and the triumph of the human spirit" Examiner
"It succeeds in being extremely funny while also wrestling with deeper philosophical questions about the role of religion in society and individual choice." Huffington Post
"This book manages to be both highly entertaining and seriously thought provoking. I must also mention the flawless translation, which allows us to step into the streets of Copenhagen and to enjoy Høeg’s play with words. Peter regales us with tales of his hilarious misdeeds on one page and delves into the true nature of spirituality on the next. I closed this book feeling wiser." Three Percent
"A thriller of sorts this is, but it’s more humorous than frightening, more of a caper than a mystery, and more of a coming-of-age story than a suspense yarn....Under the madcap adventure story Høeg poses serious issues about neglected children, venal church officials, and the paths to intellectual and spiritual freedom." Publishers Weekly
"Part comic teenage adventure story, part intellectual debate, the best-selling Danish author's sixth novel is a shaggy-dog story with a unique vision....Høeg has an endless menu of oddities to stir into his story; whether thriller, fantasy or disuisition on spiritual belief, love and parenting does successfully invent an inexhaustible landscape all its own" Kirkus
"This is the novel of the winter to restore your faith in the magic of human experience." Washington Independent Review of Books
Reading Group Guide
1. Why do you think Høeg chose to have a child narrate this story? In Peter’s perceptions and descriptions, how are the adults different from him and the rest of the children?
2. The title of the book is taken from this Indian proverb: “In case you wish to befriend an elephant keeper, make certain to have room for the elephant.” Discuss the meaning of the proverb and how it relates to the novel’s characters. Do you think the adults in the book are each elephant keepers in his or her own way?
3. In what ways does the novel blur the boundaries between the real and the imagined? What do you think Høeg is trying to say about the nature of reality—and our beliefs about it—through these distortions of reality and seemingly fantastical episodes and characters?
4. Høeg presents a narrative full of anecdotes and diversions. What sort of experience does this create for the reader? Are these really distractions from the plot, or do they build the larger framework of the narrative? If the latter, what does Høeg wish the reader to gain from them?
5. On Finø, many religions co-exist in peace together. Given that the population is capable of overcoming such obstacles as prejudice and religious intolerance, what keeps the island from being a perfect utopia?
6. Peter tells us, “with the island being so small, a lot of people need to be two or three things at once” (page 14). Which characters possess this multifaceted quality, literally and/or psychologically? How do these dynamics influence their standing in Finø?
7. Sex, religion, and freedom are all closely entwined throughout the novel. How are sex and religion blended or distinguished from one another to create freedom, false-freedom, or imprisonment for the characters?
8. Early in the novel, it is revealed that you can enter “the door” at moments of extreme happiness or despair and that love and “the door” are connected. In light of these facts, and the fates of the characters, think about what keeps a person from being free. Why is Tilte the one to find the door?
9. Describe what it means to be an elephant keeper. Can an elephant keeper walk through “the door”?