Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Magician's Elephant


I read this book over Christmas, in the midst of many distractions.  It grabbed me from the first sentence, which I had read on Amazon before putting the book on my Christmas list, and continued to add layers as I read.  The first chapter sets the stage for the rest of the book, daring to make its readers care about small things.  A single decision focuses the chapter, allowing the author to weave in background and meaning while asking the question, What if?, which becomes a theme of the book.  The young man who makes this small decision, with a musical name and a difficult childhood, resonates with Oliver Twist and other Dickensian characters.  He also has at least one flaw (his earnestness), like every character in the book.  The book brings out magical realities, an essential part of childhood, but it is not really a children's book.  The elephant in the title becomes a key character in her own right, symbolizing alternately a war, a catastrophe, hope, despair, and creativity.  The multi-layered symbolism keeps this from being a straight allegory, but every character certainly has representative qualities.  I recommend the book for its poetic quality and thoughtfulness, even if the uplift the book is looking for isn't quite there in the end.
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