Synopses & Reviews
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."
About the Author
is the author of five previous books, including Mister Sandman
and We So Seldom Look On Love
, and she has twice been a finalist for both the Governor General's Award and the Giller Prize. She lives in Toronto, Ontario.
Reading Group Guide
1. When Date Bed is separated from her family, she discovers that the Domain has been warped by the violence of man. Because these are "abnormal times," shes not quite certain of animals behaviors anymore. Its clear that the arrival of man not only alters the elephants world, but the animal kingdom at large. In what ways are each of the characters perspectives altered, both through direct circumstance and spiritually?
2. In what ways do the elephants religion parallel and differ from the varieties of human worship?
3. Standing amidst the slaughter of his family, Hail Stones says to Mud, "Only in moments of bliss does it become apparent to us why terrible things happen." (p.117) What does the young bull mean by this statement? If Mud cannot yet understand the statement, does she by the end of the novel?
4. On p. 121: "Twice [She-Snorts] located Date Beds dung and twice she smelled single drops of her blood. At the first discovery of blood, on the node of a log, She-Snorts said, ‘She is wounded, and She-Soothes bellowed, ‘Hardly at all! and their voices, one frightened, one encouraged, described the precise, contracted boundaries of what could be reasonably felt. Not despairing, not yet. Not relieved yet, either." How do these opposite sentiments resonate throughout the novel at large? Where would you say Mud stands between such opinions?
5. At the opening of Chapter Ten (p. 159), the author describes the elephants sense of time. What role does memory play in such measurements, and what do the elephants perceptions say about how they view themselves?
6. When left to her own devices, how does Date Bed improvise her own measurements of time? And reflectively, how does her memory change?
7. Toward the end of Muds pregnancy, she experiences a dream of Date Bed telling her, "You must understand, we arent what we think we are." Date Beds trunk then disappears, and out of the cavity a wind blows and a baby cries, "Mama!" What do you think this vision means to Mud? What are her feelings about her own child?
8. When Date Bed finds the Thing, she begins what could be described as a self-exploration. Her journey begins to increasingly turn inward. Through the exercises that she uses to recover lost memory, what does Date Bed find?
9. "By what misguided arrangement were she-ones made swollen with memory rather than sleek with appetite?" (p. 320) Discuss the relevancy of this statement, not only at the close of the book, but throughout the entire novel.
10. Through Muds eyes, who is Bolt?