Friday, July 10, 2009

The Elephant Keeper-Christopher Nicholason

The Elephant Keeper
Christopher Nicholason
Morrow, Aug 4 2009, $24.99
ISBN: 9780061651601

In 1766, the Dover arrives from the East Indies docking in Bristol, England. Rumors spread like an out of control blaze that something special is on board. Though most assume it is a mythological creature, it turns out two young elephants each over twelve feet and the other live cargo like the zebra is at first sight assumed by many as mythological beasts.

The affluent patriarch of the Harrington merchant family buys the elephants as a present for his kids. He assigns young teenager Tom Page as the groom of the pachyderms living on his estate. Tom names them Timothy and Jenny. Tom becomes attracted to sassy maid Lizzy Tindall, especially after she is kind to his Jenny. However, when Jenny and Timothy are sold to separate owners, Lizzy tells him ironically to forget Jenny (and Timothy) as she is "only an Elephant", angering Tom. He goes with Jenny though he is saddened by his having to leave Timothy. As the pair moves from one owner to another, he tries to keep up with Timothy’s health until Jenny is moved into a hovel in London where Tom deserts her for the highlights of the decadent big city. Eventually, he realizes what he has done and returns to his Jenny; writing her story a few years after they first bonded.

This is an excellent refreshing historical tale that uses the uniqueness of an elephant in Georgian England to tell a coming of age tale of loyalty in a violent era in which animal rights are non existent. Jenny is terrific as she is able to communicate her needs and caring for her human groom to Tom (and the reader) even when he deserts her temporarily; Tom understands her as she is his “soulmate” and realizes especially after London that his bond is unbreakable for his Jenny.

Harriet Klausner

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