From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2010:
(Actual press date November 3.)
An Inconvenient Elephant
by Judy Reene Singer
(10 East 53rd St., New York, NY 10022), 2010.
388 pages, paperback. $14.99.
How do you rescue an elephant on death row in Zimbabwe from New York?
An Inconvenient Elephant is a sequel to novelist Judy Reene
Singer’s 2007 hit Still Life With Elephant. The plot this time
appears to have been inspired by the January 2008 shooting of an
elephant in Charara, Zimbabwe, who was called both Tusker and
Dustbin, a week after he blundered into a New Year’s Eve party.
“He was teased and tormented mercilessly by drunken youths
and when he retaliated by turning a couple of cars over, he signed
his own death warrant. We found out later that fruit had been thrown
under the cars ‘to see what the elephant would do,'” recalled
Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force founder Johnny Rodrigues, who
launched an unsuccessful international Internet campaign to try to
Singer’s narrator and heroine, horse trainer Neelie
Sterling, live in Kenya among elephants until political violence
over the disputed 2006 presidential election rocks the nation in
Trying to flee with Diamond Rose Tremaine, a New Yorker who
spent 20 years as a tour guide in the African bush, Sterling and
Tremaine discover at the Jomo Kenyatta airport that all flights
departing Kenya are full–but Tremaine uses her long list of African
connections to book the pair on a flight to Zimbabwe, another
country shaken by political, social, and economic turmoil.
“I have never seen such hunger, such deprivation, such
shortages of everything, all due to a depraved and indifferent
government,” comments Sterling. Families huddle together under
tarps. Dogs, cats, cows and other animals drop dead in the streets
from lack of food. Touring what remains of a state park, Sterling
and Tremaine meet Tusker, a bull elephant who has been put on a
death list for alleged dangerous behavior. Reality is that elephant
meat feeds the Zimbabwean army, making any elephant a potential
Sterling falls in love with Tusker and is determined to save
him, especially after she catches a band of thugs taunting him with
rocks and bottles.
Sterling attempts to lure Tusker out of the country, wothout
government permission, but Tusker befriends another elephant instead
of escaping. Now Sterling has two elephants to rescue.
Convincing the corrupt government to spare their lives
appears to be nearly impossible. A huge bribe would help but
Sterling is broke. Again Tremaine works her sources, but no pilot,
even Sterling’s former boyfriend Tom, can afford to risk airlifting
two elephants out of Zimbabwe. Sterling and Tremaine reluctantly
return to the U.S. to raise money for Tusker, whose real life
counterpart did not have that much time to wait for help.
As hosting a fundraising event requires investing money that
Sterling doesn’t have, she returns to training and selling horses.
An Inconvenient Elephant is then sidetracked by a subplot.
Before going to Kenya, Sterling gave away a beloved horse named
Mousi. Upon her return, the new owners say they can no longer afford
Mousi, but Sterling fails to respond until after Mousi is sold for
slaughter. This requires Sterling to engage in another rescue effort.
Readers may find the adventures of Sterling and Tremaine
considerably more satisfactory, especially in outcome, than the
fates of the real Tusker and most horses who go to slaughter auctions.
–Debra J. White