Rating – 4/5
Born in a family of mahouts (elephant trainers), Hemit dreams of getting his elephant in the cattle fair next year. He is a gentle soul and understands animals in a way that no one can. He believes the relationship between a mahout and his elephant should be based on trust, love, and respect. However, his father uses harsh ways to dominate his elephant. Unable to withstand any more ill-treatment towards the elephants in the family stable, he takes a stand against his father.
Hemit’s yearning to understand the elephants better leads him to a mystical fakir, who everyone believes is an evil sorcerer. But Hemit sees otherwise and accepts the fakir’s help to learn how to communicate with his beloved elephant. Will Hemit succeed in convincing his father that love and respect are the only ways to gain an animal’s trust? With his new-found learning, can Hemit win Asha’s (an abused elephant) trust? Read Soul of the Elephant by Pam Laughlin to find out.
Laughlin’s vividly descriptive prose took me out of the comfort of my home and hurled me smack-dab in the middle of Hemit’s village in South India, close to the Periyar river. I could smell the rich aroma of the sambar, dosa, and chutney that Hemit’s mother cooked for him. I could see him playing with his friends in the forest which reminded me of my childhood days playing the same games.
Laughlin describes every elephant in Hemit’s family’s stable uniquely so that I could clearly distinguish between the lovely Jani, the sensitive Kari, and the motherly Maya. Soul of the Elephant breathes wilderness on every page.
Further, Hemit’s transformation from a boy eager to please his father to a man who opposes his father’s strict ways of dealing with elephants is another major strength of this book. The supporting characters are also satisfyingly etched out. Moreover, Laughlin needs to be applauded for the exhaustive research she has done to immerse the reader in nineteenth-century India.
If you want to read a conventional coming-of-age story mixed with fantastical elements such as weretigers, mystical fakirs and a healthy dose of exotic wilderness, Soul of the Elephant by Pam Laughlin is the book for you.
I reviewed this book for Readers’ Favorite.