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White Bone

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,283 Ratings  ·  246 Reviews
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 o
Published by Harpercollins (first published 1998)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Nov 13, 2008 Trena rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Trena by: Vivienne
Pros: -extremely creative characters and structure
-Interesting, compelling story

Neutrals: -I'm not sure that anthropomorphism is really the way to go if your goal is animal rights. If people are motivated only to protect the animals that are "like us," that leaves a lot of important species out. But I don't know that was Gowdy's goal.
-Authors who write animals are always obsessed with poop. I know animals pay a lot of attention to their excrement, but do we really have to pay as much attention t
Mar 26, 2009 Martin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It took a while for this chisel of a book to crack the nut of my head. I had to start it three times because the perspective was so strange, and grim. But on the third try I was enthralled. This book put me inside a different way of thinking. I treasured returning to this book and comprehending the revelations on nearly every page -- of the fact that there was a different way of observing things.

So often I enjoy books that are brilliant executions of standard plots or formulas, like God Bless Y
Bryn Hammond
Aug 23, 2012 Bryn Hammond rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: imagined-fiction
Warning: character deaths. These elephants live in a war zone - they are refugees. Massacre is the commonest death.

I’ve never read a novel that so constructs animal minds the way a science fiction writer constructs alien minds. This is a serious attempt to be inside the head of an elephant. To briefly outline what her elephants are like: they are big balls of emotion, intensely superstitious. Not too idealised – half of them are more silly than wise perhaps. (But on idealisation, every species
May 17, 2008 T.J. rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any decent human being that wants a good book
This is an absolutely fantastic novel. The fact that the author managed to even *attempt* to get into the mind of an African elephant is astonishing. The work itself, however, an epic world of myth, belief, hope, and sacrifice, is what makes it more stunning. And beyond comprehension. In the top five books I've ever read.
Jul 09, 2007 Cassandra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anybody really, but mostly animal lovers
One of my favorite books ever. This is one of the few books I've read that never quite made it into popularity, or onto any bestseller lists, but was still a great read. It follows the story of a certain group of elephants in Africa and their way of life and their hardships, of which there are plenty of. The entire book is overall very somber, with moments of being heartbreaking. The ending is almost reminiscent of the ending of "The Handmaid's Tale", at least in my opinion. I truly wish this bo ...more
Dec 23, 2007 Audrey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Animal lovers, any literary fiction fan who wants a great read
Amazing book. An adventure, drama, heartbreak, hope, the struggle of the spirit to survive and thrive all told from the perspective of elephants. Don't be put off by that if you are not an animal lover or have a particular affinity for elephants, like I do. They are incredibly amazing, complex, extremely intelligent creatures, but this book is so beautifully written with such a compelling story that anyone who appreciates good literary ficton will enjoy this a great deal.
A fantasy about elephant families where some of them can read minds and some can talk to other animals. It sounds too sci-fi until you start reading it and it just seems like you are meeting some interesting people who happen to be elephants. The author does a great job of including realities like dung-eating and poaching (warning: this book will make you sad).
Mar 31, 2008 Virginia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I found myself thinking about this book when I wasn't reading it. Definitely not a light book - but very interesting. Written from the perspective of several different elephants. Author does an excellent job of creating a culture and language that is both believable and easy to follow. Very moving content.
Not an easy, or a fun, but a deep, important, thought-provoking read. Gowdy attempted the impossible feat of getting into the head of another creature--an elephant. This already is a huge stretch and its incredibly difficult to do it well, and to do it in a way that the reader feels comfortable taking the narrator seriously. Gowdy worked extremely hard to get out of her own head and into another being's umwelt.

She did an almost miraculous job. She obviously did a formidable amount of research o
Gowdy did a good job imagining the world from an elephant's perspective (I think!) as she created a culture, language and landscape that fit well with her story. For me however, the book was quite depressing even though there is always a shred of hope and long memory to guide the elephants over the landscape. The setting is a time of severe drought and human poaching which seems endless and that is the part that I found quite depressing. Some folks found the book to end on a positive and hopeful ...more
May 28, 2015 Michele rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I was so disappointed in what I thought would be a great book and clearly I am not in the mainstream with my opinion of this book that so many are giving 5 stars to. The story was quite boring and even in this short book, took too long to tell. Elephants being slaughtered by humans are looking for their promised land. That's it. The song-singing and mythology did not work in this short, linear plot line. Songs, maps, glossaries and family trees should be reserved for epic books and this was not ...more
Claudia S. (Dream Memories)
"En el mundo se viven ahora unos tiempos en los que hay que confiar en los embusteros y poner en duda a los honestos."

Si después de leer esa sinopsis no te has dado cuenta de que este libro no es como los demás, espero que con esta reseña no te quede la duda. Definitivamente El Hueso Blanco es una historia particular y ambiciosa, está contada por elefantes, con su conciencia y forma de ver el mundo. Va más allá de cualquier otra historia donde sus prota
Jan 26, 2011 Melissa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this book when it first came out back in 1998. At that point, I was still in middle school and had seen it featured at our library. Through the years I have often thought back on that book and while I couldn't remember precisely what it was about, I knew it involved elephants and for some reason had captivated me. Not too long ago I remembered the title and knew I had to read it again. After reading again, I can see why I was intrigued by the book, but didn't think it was anything complet ...more
Carol Dickerson
Mar 20, 2013 Carol Dickerson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a stunning creation. The images and personalities of the elephants linger, along with deep sadness for the fate of Africa's elephants. You can smell this book-- much of the imagery is created with descriptions of the odorous world of the elephant. Thank you to Jessy Randall for reminding me of this book. The day after I finished it, there was news of a survey that reported the scope of the murder of forest dwelling elephants in Africa in the last ten years--something like 60% . A comment ...more
Wendy Jackson
Apr 17, 2016 Wendy Jackson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: africa
I just finished a second read of the book (first one in 2003). Reading the book 13 years later, as elephant populations continue to dwindle due to poaching, I found it even more discouraging than I did the first time. It is a unique book - written from the perspective of elephants - and it may not be for everyone. I am a natural history fan and an unmitigated species geek, so appreciated the level of detail and accuracy in terms of elephant life history and behaviour. The author has obviously ta ...more
Oct 10, 2015 Randy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm definitely conflicted about this book.

I think the author did a better job of building a non-human mindset and culture than most sci-fi writers who have made the attempt. The mindset and culture of the elephants makes sense, as does the supernatural abilities some of them possess.

Be warned: as this book was written partially as a commentary on the plight and ultimate fate of elephants, it's rather a downer. "Nihilistic" is the term I've read in reviews, and I agree. The problem with a nihilis
Leslie Hartley
Aug 06, 2014 Leslie Hartley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: women (especially transitioning), evolved men
Recommended to Leslie by: chance
This quietly urgent read uses simple language to talk to the reader's soul on the most basic level. Fear, loss, hope, despair, panic, wonder and more - all of these come into play in these pages, and in the mind behind the eyes following the narration of a young elephant who may be the prophetess destined to lead the herd out of a certain death by drought, scrying with the titular totem.

It's a totally new myth to me, but it seems so true and elemental that it immediately grips the reader's want/
Feb 19, 2014 Daryl rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like elephants. Fascinating animals. Barbara Gowdy provides us with an elephant society that is at once realistic and fantastic. The realism involves a drought-laden landscape and ivory poachers who slaughter. (There is a map of the area in the front of the book, a feature which I always appreciate and one which I flipped back to frequently while reading.) The fantasy elements creep in when the elephants (or some of them, to be accurate) are telepathic and psychic. I have no problem with eleph ...more
Mar 13, 2007 Katie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
wonderful tale of hope and mystery written from the perspective of the elephant clan.

the "characters" are well developed, and complex, just like communities found in the human world.

I especially loved the family tree graphic found in the front of the book that allows you to keep all the members straight as the book progresses over several generations.

every time I see an elephant now, I reflect back to this book and wonder what is going on inside their ancient mind...
Aug 10, 2008 Heather rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I wonder if anyone else would love this book besides me. I'll admit it's a little strange at times. All the characters are elephants, and we learn all about their hopes, dreams, fears, mistakes, pain, etc. as they search for the elusive white bone. I can't really remember right now what that was for; I know it meant life to them, though. I just think the elephant society, in reality, is pretty cool. Matriarchal, and really moving in the way they relate to one another.
Feb 23, 2015 Riss rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: animal-fiction
When I first heard of this book, which is an anthropomorphic tale about elephants, I read comparisons to Richard Adams' Watership Down and Tad Williams' Tailchaser's Song. So, when I cracked this novel open I expected similarities. Some kind of epic adventure in the realm of Hazel and Fritti's exploits.

Here's the basic plot: Mud, a young cow elephant, and her adoptive family, the She-S's, embark on a perilous journey for "The White Bone", a mythical object that can lead elephants to a human-free
Sep 17, 2008 McKinley rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So far, I love this book. I loved it from page one. I have always been very keen on books that are written from an animal's perspective (I think Watership Down made a huge impression on me at a young age, not to mention Fantastic Mr. Fox :o). Elephants have always struck me as very mysterious and majestic creatures. So This was bound to be a favourite with me. I'll keep reading it, and let you know what I think when I'm done.
Larissa Fan
Jan 20, 2013 Larissa Fan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Unlike any other book I've read. Haunting, moving, surreal and incredibly imaginative. Give this book a chance - it takes some time to get into. At first I found the elephant 'lingo' to be irritating, but once I got past that I was completely absorbed. The characters are complex and convincing and their struggle for survival is heartbreaking.
Sep 03, 2008 Hope rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A fascinating, tragic book, written in a most unusual voice... that of the elephants. Not an easy book to read, due to the heartbreaking and sadly realistic plot, but very captivating and informative. Like any good novel with complex family connections, the author provides a herd genealogy which provides a great reference.
Jul 29, 2008 Jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Written from the point of view of the elephants, this book was like nothing I had read before. It is a novel, but the author's knowledge of the subject matter is obvious. I experienced every emotion under the rainbow while reading it -- I HIGHLY recommend this book to anyone looking for something a little different, but GOOD.
Anne Marie
Feb 23, 2014 Anne Marie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Heartbreakingly sad; incredibly creative. Anti-anthropomorphists beware. This story is told from the point of view of a family of African elephants, battling drought and the threat of slaughter by hindleggers (humans). The book contains a fantastic glossary of elephant vocabulary, and details their religion, memory, telepathic skills, social structure, and so much more. They are in search of a mystical white bone which will point them in the direction of The Safe Place, where "... entranced hind ...more
Youze da Funk
Dec 26, 2015 Youze da Funk rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
This is a hard book to review. On the one hand, I consider it a thoughtful, well-researched, and rigorous attempt at getting into elephant minds. Solid world-building scheme, too. So as spec/animal-fic I respect this novel a lot. But for whatever reason it didn't work for me. I'm tempted to say it's because I just found the narrative arc, dialogue, and naming system tedious, but these are also the elements that give the novel its legitimacy as a genuine attempt to empathize with being-elephant. ...more
Nov 16, 2014 Matt rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a most interesting book, quite original in conception and execution. The author takes the reader into the inner and outer worlds of a cast of African elephants. These worlds are created in great detail. I particularly enjoyed the presentation of the inner world, the elephants thinking, communicating, sensing, "thought talking", singing hymns and prayers. The interweaving of the various groups, the crossing of paths, the inclusion of other creatures sharing the elephants' world, all of th ...more
Feb 18, 2014 Rena rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked the storyline, characters and overall point to the book but there was some things that could have been changed:

1. The names! I got who was who but it would become confusing when all of them were in the conversation. It got to the point I didn't care who was talking.

2. I really have no interest in elephant sex or 'calf digging' as it's called in the book. It was pretty odd and the way it was worded was um pretty vulgar.

Those are the reasons why I gave 3 vs. 4 or 5 stars. If you can get p
Jan 18, 2014 Terry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Terry by: Barbara Kingsolver
Shelves: bookclub, fiction
I was on the verge of trying to categorize this novel by inventing the necessary genre. Hah! The genres have all been taken, which leaves me to try to actually describe the essential feeling of the book without resorting to buzz words.
For me, the many visions of some of the principals (Mud, Date Bed, Tall Time), cast the tale in a mythic light. Tall Time's revelation, if you will, of "the sickening prospect that everything exists for the purpose of pointing to something else" is central to my u
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What does the White Bone mean to you? 3 11 Apr 28, 2014 07:05AM  
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Barbara Gowdy is a Canadian novelist and short story writer. Born in Windsor, Ontario, she is the long-time partner of poet Christopher Dewdney and resides in Toronto.
More about Barbara Gowdy...

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“She and Mud were calves then. They were so devoted to each other that they walked with Date Bed grasping Mud’s tail, and they said ‘we’ instead of ‘I’--’we are tired,’ ‘we want,’ ‘we can’t’--as if they were a single calf. When She-Screams slapped Mud, it was Date Bed who squealed” 2 likes
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