18 January 2012

{[(5 - 3) + 6 - 2 = 6 - 1] = 5 - 1 = 4} - 1 = 3 nonfiction books left to review—so here's this one.

 6. Elephant's Graveyard
This play is nonfictional. It's based on a 1916 historical event and the legend that has grown out of that. 

Elephant's Graveyard is one of the most upsetting pieces of literature I have ever enjoyed. I was fascinated and horrified by it. For the entire second half of the play I wept openly. It was the same for pretty much everyone around me. 

The story's about a traveling circus and a muddy Tennessee town that come together to effect an unspeakable tragedy.

Oh, boy, let's read that! But seriously, you must read it, and if you ever get a chance, see the play. I lived through the performance (barely) and went right home and ordered the play. Its sadness is redeemed by the depth of its portrayal of humans as animals.

The star of the traveling circus is Mary, a giant Asian elephant. The circus advertises her as “The Largest Living Land Animal on Earth,” weighing “over 5 tons” and standing “3 inches taller than Jumbo,” the star elephant of the Barnum and Bailey Circus.

That's all you need to know for now. If you go to read Elephant's Graveyard, I suggest you shield yourself from the blurbs on Amazon, and the copy on the back of the book. Avoid anyone who says, I've seen that! You want to encounter this story unprepared.

Now let me see if, without giving away anything more, I can express one level of meaning I got out of this.... The events in this play exemplify the worst of human behavior toward those perceived as the lesser, or weaker. It's how animals, children, women, blacks, people with disabilities, immigrants, Jews, Mexicans—I could go on—have been treated by people who come to view the Other as dangerous beyond their differences, and get an opportunity to wield self-righteous power.

As I stumbled out of the auditorium after this play, I felt shock, shame, despair, sorrow, humility, I'll stop there. This is not a work that resolves or redeems in the end. The ending is as far as you can get from happy. And as close as you can get to the Shadow. 

This is the production I saw. 
Interestingly, there is no elephant in the play.


  1. I used to have a go-to "cry" book for those PMSy times when you jut need to get it out. (The first 5 pages of A Sudden Country by Karen Fisher) Then I gave it to a friend. Now when I feel that way I just sigh a lot and look forlornly at my bookshelf. Maybe Elephant Graveyard can be my next Sudden Country!