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The Tusk That Did the Damage

3.66  ·  Rating details ·  1,340 ratings  ·  259 reviews
From the critically acclaimed author of Atlas of Unknowns and Aerogrammes, a tour de force set in South India that plumbs the moral complexities of the ivory trade through the eyes of a poacher, a documentary filmmaker, and, in a feat of audacious imagination, an infamous elephant known as the Gravedigger.

Orphaned by poachers as a calf and sold into a life of labor and
Hardcover, 225 pages
Published March 10th 2015 by Knopf (first published February 26th 2015)
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Jan 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
There are always multiple ways to look at any situation—this novel gives us three: the elephant’s point of view, the poacher’s, and the Western film maker’s. There is truth in all three. I was a volunteer natural history teacher for 17 years—you can take the woman out of the classroom, but you can’t take the teacher out of her. I immediately began recommending this book to the folks I know who are still manning the ramparts and educating the public.

The only viewpoint that is missing from this
Book Riot Community
I don’t know what I was expecting out of this novel aside from an elephant narrator, but WOW. There is indeed an elephant narrator, which might sound cute to you. Let me assure you, cute is the last thing this book is. Powerful, compelling, beautifully written, with a stunning ending: yes. Telling the stories of those involved in elephant poaching in South India (including the elephant), The Tusk That Did the Damage will stick with you for a very long time. — Jenn Northington

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(Nearly 3.5) This composite picture of the state of wildlife conservation in India is told from three perspectives: an elephant named the Gravedigger, a poacher, and a documentary filmmaker. James ably intersperses three voices as she explores how people fail to live up to their ideals and make harmful assumptions. Despite these attributes, it was one of those books I had to force myself through. Perhaps it was the environmental agenda: if a book is going to wear its message so openly, it has to ...more
Alice Lippart
May 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2017
A wonderful and unusual book. One of the three viewpoints, that of the documentary filmmaker, could've used a bit more development, but other than that, the whole book is spot on. Really enjoyed it.
More like 3.5 for me.

I've been wanting to read this story of elephant conservation for a while, knowing that it is told from 3 different points of view; the poacher, the rather green documentary maker, and the elephant itself. But after having my fingers burned by Ceridwen Dovey's Only the Animals earlier this year (where she has also written from the animals' POV) I wasn't sure whether I was going to like it. Happily, Tania James has taken a slightly different approach, which is, I think, a
3.5 rating

It took a while to gather my thoughts on this one, and I'm not sure I've done so sufficiently now. I enjoyed this book overall. I loved having Gravedigger's perspective, but I think those sections could have been meatier. It never got deep enough. There was just enough to begin empathizing with the elephants, but there needed to be more. I wish Gravedigger had more sections, too. There was not enough focus on him.

I also appreciated the POV's of the poacher and his brother. I cared
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Jul 22, 2016 marked it as did-not-finish
It's just that I've already read two elephant books this year.
May 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What can I say...this book has left me absolutely speechless ~ Such a beautiful, heartbreaking, devastating and captivating novel!
Claire McAlpine
Oct 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
The story of a tribe of elephants in South India, those who want to care for and protect them, those who are willing to exploit them and outsiders looking for a story.

It is a clash of cultures, of people and species who have forgotten how to live in harmony and are having to live with the consequences of their behaviours.

The narrative follows the elephant they name Gravedigger, seized as a young calf after his mother is cruelly shot; a young American film maker Emma, trying to make her name by
Bonnie Brody
Dec 30, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a novel that takes place in present day India. Told from three perspectives - that of a film crew, poachers, and an elephant known as The Gravedigger - the reader is privy to the problems and issues facing the survival of elephants.

The film crew is in India to follow a veterinarian named Ravi who is a specialist in elephants. There are two filmmakers, Teddy and Emma. Teddy is enamored of Emma but Emma begins an affair with Ravi which jeopardizes the objectivity of the documentary they
Sharon Metcalf
Dec 28, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016, logan-bookclub
This book started with the potential to reel me in and become one of those addictive books I couldn't put down. Yet for some reason it didnt work that way for me. I seemed to loose momentum toward the middle of the book but thankfully it recaptured my attention and overall I rated it as a solid 3.5 stars.

According to the saying every story has two sides yet in this book we clearly heard and came to understand three sides of the story of the unsavoury topic of poaching elephants in India. This
I love stories with animals. Even when they are portrayed as cruel, as unstoppable, untamed forces of nature, I love their stories. This is no exception. It is a lyrical, evocative portrait of an elephant treated wrong, side by side with the story of a surprisingly sympathetic poacher. I was one of those little kids who never had the guts to approach a temple elephant no matter how much my parents and other adults egged me on, and this book justifies my fear.

I loved the way it was written, with
Charlie  Ravioli
Nov 27, 2016 rated it liked it
A sad book in which three storylines intersect (a filmmaker's, a poacher's and an elephant's). I liked it and thought the writing was good. My favorite parts were those where the story was told from the elephant's point of view. lots of foreboding throughout so no real surprises (even though the end is a little tricky to follow based on the timing of the last sequence of events). It's a solid 3 star book for me, was hoping to love it but...
Jan 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
As a zoologist, I found James' book one of the best examples of the struggle between animals, poachers, and the people who try to save them. It is clear that Ms.James took a lot of time and effort to research the subject before writing about it from a fictional standpoint. I found the story of Gravedigger to be heartbreaking, and even on some level, I felt empathy for the poacher (strange considering my line of work.) An absolutely masterful job, in my opinion. Very well worth time to read.
Lark Benobi
Apr 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015
The novel starts with a scene cribbed from Babar the Elephant but what follows has none of that book's insights.
Nicole Means
Mar 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing

I got wind of this book a few months ago and was luckily able to order this book on its release date. I began reading it as soon as it arrived in the mail, and I must say score! I devoured this book in less than a week.

This book has many underlying themes but the one theme that stands out to me is memory as perspective. There are three major narrators with various different perspectives in this book: a poacher, a filmmaker, and, most interestingly, an elephant. Both the filmmaker and poacher's
Lori L (She Treads Softly)
Mar 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James is a highly recommended novel set in southern India, that covers the illegal poaching of ivory through three unique viewpoints. These three viewpoints are presented in alternating chapters.

The first viewpoint is that of the elephant which the villagers now call the Gravedigger. He witnesses the killing of his mother, after which he is captured, loved, trained, and abused. He later escapes, which is when he becomes The Gravedigger and is a source of
May 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle, elephants
It's hard not to like a book on elephants. Definitely hard not to like a book which looks at life from the perspective of an elephant without anthropomorphising emotions.

The book is amazing - she makes you want more of the stories of elephants, makes you want to sit down with Old Man and listen to his stories, the ones he's heard from his Appachan, the ones about elephants and their pappans. (a huge Thank You! for not using "Mahout" throughout the book - in Kerala, there are pappans, pronounced
I decided to really take my time with this one because I didn't want the fact that I've recently encountered a cluster of underwhelming books to be the reason that I was finding this one to be underwhelming as well. After finishing it I have no doubt that it was just this book.

The story is told from three perspectives. We have a reluctant poacher and a naïve filmmaker giving first person accounts, while the account of a fearsome serial killer elephant known as Gravedigger is told in third
Aug 26, 2015 rated it it was ok
Honestly, I found this book confusing. I understand the whole "there are multiple sides to every story" approach, but I feel like James' intent was to make it impossible for the reader to choose a moral right. This did end up being truly impossible because she left out so much in the way of necessary details that would allow one to make such a choice.

Instead, I'm left feeling lost and also, somehow, like I'm in the wrong for not being led to the "inevitable" conclusion that sometimes there is
Amy Warrick
May 29, 2015 rated it liked it

I liked the book, really, but....and there's always a but!

This story is told from three perspectives - the elephant's, the younger brother of a poacher from an impoverished Indian family, and that of an American college film-maker.

The elephant's and Indian boy's perspectives were, I thought, well executed and engaging. The film-maker, her partner, and the Indian veterinarian whose work they are filming all seemed like stick figures invented to alternately explain or make speeches.

Jessica Woodbury
Nov 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
This isn't just another book with multiple connected points of view. James' stories at first share obvious subject matter (elephants) but it's unclear whether they're told at the same time or how they'll come together. I loved that about it. Each story is also unique in tone and style, unlike many of these stories where each section feels the same.

The book is about the people who kill elephants and the people who try to save them. But it's also a unique novel that really stands out.
Sean Carman
Mar 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An exquisitely written, meticulously researched, riveting story about the world's tragic propensity for self-destruction, told from the perspectives of a young man drawn into the unseemly world of poachers and black-market ivory traders, a documentary filmmaker conflicted about the moral compromises of dramatic storytelling, and the murderous elephant who looms over James' narrative. This book is a winner!
May 21, 2016 rated it it was ok
I don't mind books with stories told from different points of view in alternating chapters. Bit the story of the foolish young woman film maker was just boring. It would have been much better to develop the characters of the poacher and his brother and their lives in more detail.
Will Chin
Sep 05, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: general-fiction
A book told through three perspectives, and one of them is that of an elephant's? Perfect. Or, at least, it should have been perfect.

The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James is a competent and lyrical story about the toll the tusk trade takes, and the story is told through three different perspectives: a group of documentary filmmakers, the poachers, as well as the elephant.

Among the three, the filmmakers' story feels the most divorced from the other two — at least until the end. The
Kim Hampton
Feb 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. I enjoyed it, especially the different points of view.
Apr 22, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: library-checkout
My feelings about poaching are pretty one-dimensional, in the sense that I loathe it in every way possible. Being one-dimensional isn't the best way to go about writing a book, so Tania James told the story of elephant poaching from multiple perspectives, in an attempt to offer different outlooks on something most people feel universally the same about.

The first perspective is through the eyes of an Elephant, who experiences tragedy as a calf and is raised in captivity. Then there are two film
Laura (booksnob)
Apr 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature, 2015
The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James

I have been reading a lot of books about elephants lately and when The Tusk That Did the Damage hit my radar, I knew I wanted to read it.

The Tusk That Did the Damage takes place in India and is told from three different perspectives. The elephant, the poacher and the filmmaker.

The Elephant also known as Gravedigger begins his story by talking about the death of his herd. Memories haunt his everyday life as he witnesses the death of his family and he is
Feb 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
The main character of the novel is a rogue elephant known as Gravedigger—so named because he buries his victims after he kills them. Gravedigger was barely a few years old when he was orphaned by poachers who attacked his clan and killed his mother. He was captured and eventually sold as labor to the lumber trade, then again as transportation, and again as ‘entertainment’ in a traveling show. But he has now escaped; he cannot forget the years of mistreatment and is seeking revenge on humans.

Jun 22, 2015 rated it liked it
What research went into this novel!

I appreciate the result. However, is that actually an Indian elephant on the cover? I thought those are supposed to have tiny ears. Ojh. Okay. It seems they have ears of varied sizes.

I found the plot straightforward. I did not find it as "devastating" as a review on the back cover suggests. Maybe that just reflects poorly on me as a human being, though. My sister often says I'm cold-hearted.
Anyway, I think The Tusk That Did The Damage gives you a glimpse of
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