The White Bone

The White Bone

A Novel

Book - 1999
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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."
Publisher: New York : H. Holt, 1999
ISBN: 9780805060362
Branch Call Number: F Gow


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Apr 17, 2018

I did not manage to finish this book. I finished Chapter 4 and then gave up. I just cannot get into books from an animals perspective.

Jan 04, 2015

This was my first Barbara Gowdy novel. It is fantastic!
A unique narrative point of view.
A tearjerker ending, be prepared to have your heart broken. Worth every tear.

WVMLStaffPicks Nov 13, 2014

A breathtaking account of a young elephant’s journey to find “the safe place.” Gowdy takes us into the hearts and minds of her creatures on their emotionally charged journey across the plains of Africa. A refreshing look at the universal themes of love and loss told with poetic intelligence.

Dec 10, 2013

one of the most beautiful novels i have ever read. gowdy hits the tone just right--the elephants are compelling but not anthropomorphized.

Oct 01, 2011

A well-researched novel about the lives of elephants in constant fear of human preditors. I learned a lot about elephants, but the story was not exciting. (May 2004)

flourgirl Mar 29, 2011

This was a very unique book. The story is told from the elephants' point of view. It was tragic and took a little while to get used to but I thought it was really an amazing look into the lives of elephants.

Jan 15, 2010

In The White Bone, a herd of African elephants face challenges so immense as to dwarf even their hefty bulk. Drought has ravaged the once-rich grasslands and humans hunt them for their ivory tusks with brutal regularity. Young Mud is a female elephant adopted by one herd after her own was wiped out by hunters. Mud has a kind adoptive mother in She-Scares, a best friend in fellow youngster Date Bed, and even something of a love interest in a young bull named Tall Time. In fact, Mud is expecting her first calf. But this potentially joyous occasion is significantly marred when her family is slaughtered by poachers. Mud survives and sets out to find the mythical White Bone, a legendary artifact that will lead the finder to the Safe Place. Her quest is not an easy one for elephant or reader; author Barbara Gowdy doesn?t hold back when describing the violence, tragedy, and despair that accompanies the near-extinction of an entire species. The White Bone is a difficult read in other ways as well; the kinship and names of the members of various herds get complicated at times. Each female of the herd is named She-something, the ?something? beginning with the same letter as the matriarch elephant?s name (She-Swaggers, She-Demands); the cow elephants get these names when they reach maturity and before that are known by other names; male bull elephants keep their childhood names; and it takes awhile before the reader is fully immersed in the elephants? vocabulary (a ?big fly? is an ostrich, ?hindleggers? are humans) and sense of place in the sub-Sahara deserts. Gowdy?s intention with her detailed family trees and glossaries is to instill her animals with the same intricate histories, families, and memories that people are both blessed and cursed with. Elephants never forget, and Gowdy has gifted her cast of gray-eared giants with so much empathy and emotion that her human readers surely won?t forget, either.


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LMOH Mar 27, 2010

African elephants take on human characteristics in this story. They have names, clans, a religion, a social structure, and experience feelings like love, respect, etc. It describes the horror of the ivory trade and the destruction of this species.


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