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The White Bone

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  3,215 ratings  ·  363 reviews
Paperback, 336 pages
Published June 3rd 2000 by Picador USA (first published May 15th 1999)
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Average rating 3.79  · 
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 ·  3,215 ratings  ·  363 reviews

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Jan 07, 2012 rated it did not like it
1 out of 5 stars to Barbara Gowdy's novel, The White Bone, a story about a family of elephants wandering around the safari. Yes, that's right, I've given out a 1 star rating... of ~500 books I've read, only (5) five have gotten this poor of a rating, and this unfortunately, is one of them. I usually try to find something redeemable, but this one will be tough. And I mean no harm to the author, as her writing style was fine... it just was such a poor read.

I suspect this was a brilliant idea gone
Mar 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Youze da Funk
Dec 26, 2015 rated it it was ok
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
May 18, 2015 rated it did not like it
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
Emily Cait
I don't even know how to rate this.

I maybe want to describe this as a fantasy novel with elephant protagonists? In a time of drought and poaching, the mind reading and visionary elephants go on a quest to find a mythical white bone that will point them to a Safe Place.
Jan 26, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Linda Hopf
Sep 21, 2016 rated it it was ok
They do a lot of walking - lumbering up sandy hills, through tall grasses & fresh growth, past trampled thickets, over fallen trees, down steep inclines, into thick sage brush, through drifts of red dust, splashing through warm shallows, trudging over river banks... I could go on & on. Then there were the She's - She Snorts, She Screams, She Scavenges, She Distracts, She Sees, She Scares, She Drawls and Drawls ...She S's, She D's, She M's, She B's - heck even She DD's or was it She BB's? It all ...more
Jun 07, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Suzanne Cheriton
May 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
There is some writing in this book that I underlined and dog-eared and will go back to time and time again. Heart-breaking and wise.
Sep 06, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anthro, fantasy
The White Bone is a poignant novel about the effects of poaching on the behavior and psyche of African elephants and how human interference and natural disasters combine to threaten elephants’ existence. Our protagonists, Mud and Date Bed, are two young female elephants struggling to survive a drought. They are separated when (view spoiler). Mud and Date Bed set off on a desperate search to find each ...more
Patty Zuiderwijk
I love elephants but I really don't think (or believe) that they can get visions when their calf will be born (after a calf tunnel being dug?!) and whether or not it will live.
I mean, they might, after eating way to many wrong mushrooms... But I don't think they will.

This my friend, is Elephant Fantasy although I don't think it is meant like this.
It is weird. Weird A.F.

In case it's not weird enough for you, they can also "sing and dance". Yeah... Don't look at me, I did not make this up. I did
Nov 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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).
Jan 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Oct 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Chose to read this for our uni assignment. It opened up another world. It is obvious the author researched the plight of elephants in Africa but she didn't leave off there. Barbara Gowdy created a language befitting the elephants which takes the reader inside the minds of these large animals. A worthwhile read and I recommend The White Bone to all and sundry
May 07, 2016 rated it liked it
I enjoyed reading this book especially through the perspective of elephants something different and quite good.
Kim Stallwood
Jul 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
It seems to me that there are two approaches to take when writing fiction in which nonhuman animals are the characters and the world imagined is theirs. First, to write about animals and their world in such a way that there is some familiarity or resemblance to ourselves and the world as experienced by ourselves. Examples in this category may include Black Beauty by Anna Sewell and Watership Down by Richard Adams. Second, to write fiction that imagines the world that’s inhabited by the animals w ...more
Apr 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Wendy Jackson
Mar 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: africa, fiction
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
Larissa Fan
Oct 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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. ...more
Ayelet Waldman
Feb 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I know this book is nuts. It's told from the point of view of elephants, for god sake. But it's magical and heartbreaking. And it changed the way I think about animals in the world. ...more
This book was a book club selection. I couldn’t make it to the book club because I was out of town, but still attempted to read it regardless.

I got 1/3 of the way through before returning it to the library (and most of the reading was done because I was sitting on a plane with limited options on how to spend my time). I found it hard to get into, especially at the beginning… I wasn’t able to get into an elephant frame of mind (although as I started to settle into it, it was kind of fascinating)
I can't do a "real" review, because it's been too long since I read it, but I wanted to write something. This is a work of fiction that is told from an elephant’s point of view, as it follows African elephant, Mud, and her family as they navigate perils that befall elephants, including drought and poaching, while they try to find someplace safe. ...more
This book is horribly sad and will infuriate you. It is probably an important read, but is deeply triggering for animals lovers. In the end I’m left feeling powerless to have any effect on changing the circumstances of these incredible creatures. Not recommended if you’re looking for a light-hearted vacation read.
I did not manage to finish this book. I finished Chapter 4 and then gave up. I just cannot get into books from an animals perspective.
Doriana Bisegna
May 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wow! How an author can think up a novel based on elephants and turn them into characters is simply beyond imagination! Throughout the novel, you the reader are travelling along with these different elephant characters through their daily lives (and all that that encompasses) and what a ride it is. I strongly suggest you use the glossary at the beginning of the book to keep track of elephantese. There is also a family tree for all the different families that can be referred to to help the reader ...more
Apr 23, 2019 rated it did not like it
I had high hopes for this because I love elephants. I listened to this on audible and it was really difficult to listen to and follow, especially all the she-names, the way the narrator did the voices, and just too many references to gross bodily functions. I probably would have been able to get through the written version but I doubt I would have enjoyed much more. I gave up on the audio less than halfway through. It was simply too annoying.
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Barbara Gowdy is the author of seven books, including Helpless, The Romantic, The White Bone, Mister Sandman, We So Seldom Look on Love and Falling Angels, all of which have met with widespread international acclaim. A three-time finalist for The Governor General’s Award, two-time finalist for The Scotia Bank Giller Prize, The Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and The Commonwealth Writers’ Prize ...more

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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” 3 likes
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