A rogue elephant named the Gravedigger is the main narrator of “The Tusk That Did the Damage” (Alfred A. Knopf: 240 pp., $24.95), Tania James’ imaginative novel exploring the ivory trade in the forests of south India. Orphaned at birth by a poacher, the Gravedigger seeks revenge for his mother’s death, killing humans he encounters in his attacks and then tenderly burying them.
James, author of the acclaimed “Aerogrammes” and “Atlas of Unknowns,” discovered the intriguing subject of her second novel after reading a book describing a real-life man-killing elephant, driven by deforestation to hunger and madness. Delving into further research, she discovered two other voices: Manu, the younger brother of poacher Jayan, and Emma, a 23-year-old documentary filmmaker, whose narration of the novel weaves in with those of the Gravedigger.
The Smoke is Rising, by Mahesh Rao, and The Strangler Vine, by M.J. Carter. A funny, angry view of contemporary India, and a Boy’s Own picture of one of its past tipping points: The Spectator
Mysore, once the capital of a princely kingdom in South India, has lost its lustre. In Mahesh Rao’s darkly comic novel, grandiose futuristic visions are being floated: in a city desperate to reinvent itself for today’s brave new world, ancient temples and palaces are no longer enough. With India’s space programme about to send a man to the moon, Mysore must make its own giant leap. All hopes are pinned on what is destined to be a global tourist attraction: HeritageLand, planned as Asia’s largest theme park (think Mughal Waterworld — the Disneyland of south India!) And Mysore needs a new marketing slogan — ‘The Geneva of the East?’ suggests a desperate PR person. Well, at least there’s a lake. Read more
Claire Scobie’s first novel, The Pagoda Tree, reviewed in The Age
The change of writing genre from non-fiction to fiction is not always easily achieved, but Claire Scobie’s first book, Last Seen in Lhasa, about her search for a rare red lily and her subsequent friendship with a Tibetan nun, already suggested a writer whose evocative prose might make the transition.
Scobie’s first novel, The Pagoda Tree, is an ambitious book set in southern India in 1765 when the British were becoming increasingly dominant. At the heart of the book is the story of Mayambikai – Maya – a young girl training to be a temple dancer, a devadasi.