11. A Book with Non-Human Characters
I was led to this because I need to get back to my book club, so that I can request a book for us to read together and discuss. I do love this bookclub and have not been reading and attending. I'd better get going. So the next book club selection was this book about elephants. ELEPHANTS! I am not a huge animal fiend. Then again, every time I pick up a book about a human who loves animals, I am usually quite taken by it. Interesting people like animals. Interesting people dedicate their lives to loving and understanding animals. Maybe this would not be so bad. I've also been on a World War II reading kick over the past few months.
Elephant company truly did not disappoint me. James "Elephant Bill" Williams fought in WWI and discovered a love for camels which he rode in the war. In choosing post war employment he decided his love was for animals and chose to move to Burma and work with elephants at the Bombay Burma Teak Company. He spent the next 20 plus years learning about elephants, working with them in the jungle, raising a family in the jungle and when war broke out again, using the elephants to lead people to safety from the Japanese and building bridges for the Allies.
Croke writes of Elephant Bill with affection. He is a man you want to meet after just a few pages. You'll want to ask him to talk about his beloved elephants because to understand elephants is to understand him. I have a new sense of appreciation for the intelligence of elephants and for conservation efforts of them as a species. One of William's early contributions to elephant welfare was humane training and treatment of animals. At the end of the war, as he realized his time in the jungle was ending. He wanted nothing more than to release the elephants from their lives of servitude and see them go wild.
Croke also writes of elephants with amazement and love. The star elephant of Bill's company is a prize bull raised in captivity named Bandoola. Bill loved Bandoola and understood him more than anyone. One of the saddest moments in the story was the moment when Bill discovered Bandoola had been killed.
The book is in three parts. First we meet Billy Williams and understand how he got started in the jungles of Burma and how he loved elephants and the people of Burma. You learn some about British Colonial rule in Burma and begin to get a sense of the times and the treatment of animals. Williams was well respected and his ideas about the humane treatment of animals were given a fair shot.
The second part covers how he meets his wife and begins his family which is not easy for a man who lives in the jungle, but he does and his family life is quite romantic and his love affair with Susan Rowlands feels like the stuff of movies.
The last part is about how he led his elephants during WWII in fighting the Japanese in Burma. Ms Croke paints the picture in words that makes readers feel like the exciting ending to a great epic movie. The clouds part, the music swells and there are the elephants standing tall and proud and leading people to freedom. I am guessing that the hard part in making a movie about elephants in the War in this modern world would be finding enough elephants.
This book might not appeal to everyone, but I feel pleased that the book group chose it so that I might discover it. I am looking forward to talking about it next month.