The White Bone
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The White Bone

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  1,837 ratings  ·  205 reviews
Plunged into an alien landscape, readers orient themselves in elephant time, elephant space, and elephant consciousness, and begin to feel, as Gowdy puts it, what it would be like to be that big and gentle, to be that imperiled, and to have that prodigious memory.
Paperback, 352 pages
Published September 5th 2000 by St. Martins Press-3pl (first published 1999)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Martin
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...more
T.J.
May 17, 2008 T.J. rated it 5 of 5 stars
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.
Trena
Nov 13, 2008 Trena rated it 3 of 5 stars
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...more
Audrey
Dec 23, 2007 Audrey rated it 5 of 5 stars
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.
Virginia
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.
Shannon
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
Bryn Hammond
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...more
Cassandra
Jul 09, 2007 Cassandra rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
Carrie
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).
Brittany
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...more
Carol Dickerson
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
Leslie Hartley
Aug 06, 2014 Leslie Hartley rated it 5 of 5 stars
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/...more
Daryl
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
Katie
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...
Heather
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.
McKinley
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
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.
Hope
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.
Jennifer
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 Macek
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
Rena
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...more
Melissa
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
Terry
Jan 18, 2014 Terry rated it 4 of 5 stars
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...more
Lara Messersmith-Glavin
This novel is both spare and rich, quick-moving and richly imagined. It is also devastating.

In the tradition of animals-as-protagonists, The White Bone relies the least upon clever and familiar anthropomorphic mannerisms and worlds, relative to other classics of the genre, like the weirdly wonderful Duncton Wood, about moles, or the fantastically creepy Watership Down, (whose portrayal of rabbits left me with a permanent fascination and mild fear of the fluffy creatures). Barbara Gowdy creates,...more
Martin Rowe
This was my second reading of THE WHITE BONE (and it's amazing how much I'd forgotten over a decade, apart from the mournful, even desperate, tone of the book). Like an elephant (I imagine), the book takes its time and you have to be patient as it works its way into your imagination. It's outstanding and impressive how Barbara Gowdy has constructed the interior and exterior worlds of the elephant—from the curse/blessing of their memories and their experiences of musth and estrus; to their abilit...more
Mindy
This is definitely an interesting book unlike others I've read, largely because of the subject matter. It was nice to read something so unique. But I do think it could have been a lot more interesting. The narration was very dry and proper, which didn't seem to fit the natural, simply, earthy subjects. And the fact that the narration was in third person (feeling like a documentary) but still somehow intimate and sad kept me wondering who on earth was saying all of this and what their relationshi...more
Anita
This is a genuinely exceptional novel. Barbara Gowdry has created an emotionally moving masterpiece filled with depth and great imagination.
The novel is based on one of many herds of elephants living on the African plain, struggling with life and death, drought, slaughter, family and the hope of safety and a better life. The novel centres mainly upon Mud a young cow calf living with an adoptive herd following the death of her own mother on the day of her birth. She is introspective, faintly ang...more
Perry Whitford
The White Bone, rather quixotically, is a unique tale following a herd of elephants through a time of plight and rupture across the length and breath of their sizable domain. Through inspired speculation, Gowdy imagines for them a highly structured social life, matriarch-dominated and with a detailed shared mythology which even involves their own Adam & Eve story (ten thousand years ago two renegade elephants ate flesh and were transformed in evil "hindleggers", the first humans).
Then, of co...more
Azalea
I am always as happy as a clam when I find a "talking animal book" starring a species I've not read about before. There is only so much of this genre you can read from a canine/feline view, after all.

In my experience, you can classify this genre in the following sub groups:
Very obvious fables - Animal Farm
Not so obvious fables - Watership Down Wolfsaga
Fantasy books with animals instead of some humans or something, why even use animals at all? - The Sight
Fantasy books with animals, but it wouldn'...more
Lia
I shouldn't have been surprised at how much I liked this. I've enjoyed everything else I've read by Gowdy. But I'm not one to pick up an "animal story", and the numerous pullquotes from reviews put me off somewhat. You know: poignant, important, powerful story of animal suffering. Please.

Barbara Gowdy's skill as a novelist is probably the main reason for my appreciation of this work, but her approach, while not unique, also contributes. Rather than using extensive anthropomorphism for maximal em...more
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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.
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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” 1 likes
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