I have been looking forward to reading Elephant Run simply because I think elephants are fascinating and enjoy good stories involving them. I am happy to say that this was an enjoyable–at times even riveting–read.
The story centers around Nick Freestone, a boy in his early teens, who is living in London with his mother in the early 1940’s during World War II. As the German bombing of London becomes worse, Nick’s mother agrees to send him to his father, a tree plantation owner in Burma, where she believes he will be safer. Nick has not been to Burma in eight years and is anxious to return and to see his father.
Once Nick arrives in Burma, however, he realizes that life is not necessarily safer there than in London. The Japanese army invades and conquers Burma. Nick’s father is sent to a prisoner-of-war camp while Nick remains under the charge of the Japanese colonel who converts the plantation into his military headquarters.
The elephants are intertwined with the story in that they are the main source of heavy labor on the plantation, and later for the Japanese army installations. They also often mirror the emotions and behavior of the humans in the story. Nick is befriended by Mya, a young girl who has an affinity for animals–elephants especially–and her great-grandfather, a respected monk. Together the three hatch a daring plan for escape from Burma and rescue of Nick’s father and Mya’s brother from the Japanese prisoner camps.
Nick’s gentleness, strength and insight are authentic, the characters are strongly defined and the storyline is compelling. The setting offers the opportunity to reflect on the nature of war and the nature of people, both good and bad.
A word of caution: there are violent details of death and beatings and other tragedies within the parameters of war. These passages are not extremely graphic but they are honest. For the above reason I would recommend this as an independent or small group/book club read for older readers.