The Tusk that did the Damage is a story of the ivory trade told through three points of view. The most captivating of these points of view is almost certainly that of the escaped bull elephant known as The Gravedigger.
Telling part of the story directly from the perspective of the elephant was a daring move because it could’ve so easily been a heavy-handed effort to drum up sympathy for only the tormented animal, painting the other perspectives as ill-meaning and cruel. Instead, the perspective of the elephant is well balanced with that of a documentary filmmaker, and a young villager who has been sucked into the poaching trade. They intertwine as antagonists and James’ writing pulls off the best of character-building where no one is purely good or evil.
For myself, the perspective of the filmmaker which is rather prominent on the page was fairly weak in intrigue. Next to the tension of the villagers vs. the elephant, the professional and romantic tensions of the filmmaker’s story feel, admittedly like a distraction, a sideshow.
I also, perhaps in some petty way, found myself distracted once the quite young age of the filmmaker is revealed. Having gone to film school myself, I had to suspend some disbelief about the docu-filmmaker’s project.
Nonetheless, the novel is suspenseful and clever, placing you convincingly in its setting of rural South India.
221 pages. Quick read.