Because this book came recommended, I knew I should stick with it even though it didn’t immediately capture my interest. The book is well written, and Hammond’s strength is the way she interweaves her characters together. It certainly is a character-driven story with the plot taking a back seat.
Samson Brown has been taking care of Hannah for over forty years. Hannah is an elephant left to the town by Max L. Biedelman, an adventurous woman who left the elephant to the town—along with a zoo and some other property. The elephant lives in conditions that are barely passable. She is lonely, her foot is injured from being chained for many hours each day and from standing on the concrete floor, and her past has left her nervous. Sam is caring, but like Hannah, he is suffering. The man is diabetic (he has a bleeding ulcer on his foot/leg) and is in no shape to keep taking care of the elephant; he is ready to retire. When I first started reading, I saw that Sam cared about Hannah, but I didn’t understand why. If the book hadn’t been recommended to me, I may have been skeptical and put it down.
I was glad I held out. I won’t reveal Sam’s reasons for being so devoted to the elephant, but they exist. I will mention that the title comes from a dream Sam has repeatedly, a dream he believes he is having through Hannah’s eyes, in which Hannah is running free with other elephants. There was an “aha!” moment in which the author revealed the true reason Hannah is so special to Sam. It came a bit late for my taste, but it hooked me.
There are a handful of other characters. When they are first introduced, we are given little information about their backgrounds and motivations. They all seem quirky and even selfish. But as the story progresses, Hammond delicately weaves in details about their pasts that justify their actions and explain their motivations. Even the nastiest character seems more likeable. The characters come from all walks of life except for adolescence. Unlike young adult books, these characters have all had pasts (containing various degrees of pain) that have shaped the way they become as adults. That was the dimension I enjoyed the most from this book.
Have you ever met someone who seems miserable, or detestable, and wonder how he or she “got” that way? This book opened my eyes to the characters, bringing sympathy grown from understanding. The book seems to send the message that we have all had a past, and the past cannot be helped. The past, for better or for worse, will shape our present and future, and it’s up to us to decide to what extent.
I mentioned this was a character-driven novel. Although I enjoyed the plot, I felt the ending came too easily, and the suspense built up too late in the book—and never really reached the critical climax. At the end of the book, I wasn’t tearing through pages to see what happened. But it is one of those books that will stick with you for a while, making you consider elements of your own life and the lives of those around you. Hammond provides a great perspective on life and human interaction—through the care of a beloved elephant.
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