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The White Bone

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  2,732 Ratings  ·  286 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
Paperback, 336 pages
Published September 5th 2000 by St. Martins Press-3pl (first published 1998)
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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
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
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
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.
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
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? ...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
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.
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.
May 07, 2016 rated it liked it
I enjoyed reading this book especially through the perspective of elephants something different and quite good.
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
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.
Claudia S. (Dream Memories)
Apr 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
"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 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, elephants
A beautiful, haunting, complex, and devastating novel. I admit that it took me about 20 pages to truly get into this book, because so much information about the way the elephants think and the terms they use needed to be digested. The shifting third person narrative perspective (Mud- an orphaned elephant with a lame leg living with her adopted herd, Date Bed- a clever calf who is in many ways Mud's best friend, and Tall Time- a bull who is revered for his knowledge of nature's signals and omens) ...more
Carol Dickerson
Mar 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 13, 2007 rated it really liked it
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...
Jul 31, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Sep 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
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.
Sep 03, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Nov 05, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those who are animal activists and need to no more about the plite facing african elefants
This book was AMAZING! Not only did Gowdy give voices to the elefants she perfectly demonstrated the actions of the elephant species-from birth to mating to what happens when an elephant dies. The names the elephants had were very obvious but original, like the main character's name was She-Spurns know...she spurns. It's a really good book!
Jan 13, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This book destroyed me. It was so beautifully written; it left me beaten down and broken by the end. Elephants are my second favorite animal (after dogs) and they need to be saved. To that end, everyone should read The White Bone.
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.
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lmpbc-moosemoose
I don’t even know how to go about discussing this book. Where most books tend to drag in the beginning and draw me in later, this was the opposite. I was immediately intrigued by the story and by how well written it was but about half way through it really just moved in circles for me and I had a hard time finishing. That being said, I still really enjoyed the book and felt like it was a deeply meaningful read.

Originally, I thought the book was about Mud and in some ways it is. Her struggle grow
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What does the White Bone mean to you? 3 13 Apr 28, 2014 07:05AM  
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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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