Sunday, 15 December 2013

Bad Elephant Far Stream - Samuel Hawley

It's the around the 1860s and in the Ceylon forests, a baby elephant known as Far Stream is playing with her siblings. With a foreboding sense, her grandmother tries to steer the herd away from danger. But before they know it, they are trapped. Man and his fire have penned them in the place they call home.

Now captured, Far Stream and her sister Red Moon along with another family of elephants are on a voyage to a new land. Chained and feeling seasick, Far Stream wonders what is happening, where are they going? After several months, they land in America and Far Stream is separated from her sister. Confusion settles in as she is led away to lead a new life. Joining the Adam Forepaugh Circus in Philadelphia Far Stream is cajoled, prodded and subject to intense training.

Known as Baby Annie the young pachyderm embarks on her new career in entertainment with resignation. For thirty years she travels around North America performing as part of a dance troupe at the mercy of her trainer's temperaments. As she grows, she no longer can be called Baby Annie and becomes Topsy. The arduous journey she makes from town to town is tolerated when she reunites with her sister Red Moon. Together they make imaginary journey's to warmer climes where the food is plentiful and they can frolic in cooling waters.

However, there are times when Far Stream is forced to be back in real time. And when she out weighs 'her keepers by a factor of forty', it won't be long before she is feared and then her reputation is that of a dangerous animal. What is Far Stream's fate? And how long can she withstand her mistreatment at the hands of man.

Told through the eyes of Far Stream, the story of life in the circus is revealed. The long hours, daily training, the tiring journey's through rain and snow. Is it any wonder after prodding with bull hooks and teasing from a curious audience that something snaps? Hawley's novel explores the world of circus elephants in an intriguing and haunting way. The author's writing style and language moves the story along without inhibiting Far Stream's 'voice' and whilst many people are met, the main character is always the elephant.

The opening chapter is a warning of how this book will end and was therefore read with some trepidation. It was certainly an experience to read from an elephant's point of view, which made the story all the more poignant. The treatment of Far Stream by her keepers is confusing to her yet as a human it was easy to understand (but not condone) why they acted the way they did. A story based on some historical factual information which makes it all the more moving and thought-provoking. Seeing the world through an elephants eyes was just amazing. Hawley has seemingly captured the range of emotions and expressions to create this intense and emotional novel so real.  A highly recommended read.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author to review. The opinions expressed are my own and I am not required to give a positive critique.

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