A preposterous fortune creates a sequence of unlikely events which culminate in a happy ever after. A fairy tale like story of the transformative power of love and hope and forgiveness.
I must admit, I was not as impressed as others (and by others I mean every blog review I’ve read sans one) were on the first read-through. I liked it overall, but felt a little dissatisfied, a little let down (hype is hard to live up to after all), but upon picking it up and reading it straight through a second time I began to see things that I hadn’t before. The deceptively simple narrative structure, the rhythm of the story, and possible allusions to historical events began to pop out at me. No longer was this simply a story of hope and love and magic, but a story where deeper truths are hidden just below the surface.
And this is where I have a confession. I need this story to be more than a fairy tale taken at face value. If I'm to take it as a story of a boy caught up in a magical story - this story doesn't quite work for me. Yes the language is beautiful, yes the atmosphere is so real I felt cold reading it, yes I agree that this is a spectacularly written book. And yet. And yet, I need for there to be a deeper meaning. For me to be swept away in the adoration of this book I need it to be a fable a la Animal Farm.
On my second reading I started seeing these deeper meanings. I wrote up a whole bunch of notes with quotes that I thought backed up my point. What first got me thinking was how this really felt like a piece of Jewish literature, the way in which the characters speak, the darkness, the dark humor, the terrible beauty of it all. The setting – doesn’t this feel like Poland or the Ukraine? Why did the author choose an elephant - did she choose it deliberately as a reference to the "elephant in the room?" What if this was really a commentary on the holocaust? And then I shared my thoughts with a couple of colleagues and realized I had lost my ever loving mind.
I can see why people love this book. I am even half in love with it. Ultimately though, It won't get my vote in our Mock Newbery because I think it's a story about a boy and magic and an elephant that needs to go home and that's just not enough for me.
Book Source: Library Copy