4 out of 4 stars
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The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter by Shilpa Raj is a memoir about the author’s life in India. The opening scene describes the anguish and shock that Shilpa feels when she discovers that her younger sister Kavya has committed suicide. The book then proceeds to tell the details of Shilpa’s life in chronological order to explain the events that led up to this tragedy. At a young age, Shilpa was recruited to be a student at Shanti Bhavan, a non-profit school, where she would receive a solid education. While this opened new opportunities for Shilpa, it also led to a strong divide between Shilpa and the culture she grew up in.
I was thoroughly impressed by Raj’s storytelling abilities. She was able to effortlessly express the emotions and motivations of her large cast. I also greatly enjoyed the realism of her characters. Raj did not shy away from describing her own flaws and those of her family. For example, Shilpa’s father, or Appa, was a complex individual. He struggled with alcoholism and continuously cheated on Shilpa’s mother. Despite his flaws, Appa was the one who recognized the value of Shilpa obtaining a good education and pushed her to try her best. I also enjoyed the dichotomy between Shilpa’s school and home life. Shilpa and her family lived in a village named Thattaguppe. Thattaguppe was deeply rooted in tradition. This served as a wedge between Shilpa and her family at times. One conflict that arose between Shilpa and her grandmother dealt with the expectation that Shilpa would marry her uncle. This completely went against the morals that Shilpa was learning at Shanti Bhavan. I found myself on the edge of my seat hoping that Shilpa would be able to stay true to herself while still maintaining a loving relationship with her family.
In terms of faults, there were only two issues I had with the book. I had some difficulties keeping up with the names of Shilpa’s family. Since her extended family lived in the same village and, at times, house as Shilpa, there were a lot of names to remember. Additionally, I felt that not enough time was spent on developing Kavya and Shilpa’s brother Francis. Even though one of the main purposes of the book was to explain the contrast between Shilpa and Kavya, Kavya never was highlighted enough where I could get a firm grasp on her character. This issue also was seen to a greater extent with Francis. However, this could have been intentional. Kavya and Francis were often pushed to the side by Shilpa’s family as they were the younger siblings. As only one child from each family could attend Shanti Bhavan, not as much value was placed on Kavya and Francis. Not devoting as much time to the two siblings could have been Raj’s way of demonstrating how they were forgotten by both herself and her family.
I only noted one error while reading The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter. This involved the use of litters instead of liters. The book was well edited and seemed as if it had underwent professional editing.
I rate The Elephant Chaser’s Daughter 4 out of 4 stars. The memoir artfully describes the struggles of the author and emphasizes the importance of education. The issues I noted were not serious enough to detract from my enjoyment of the novel. I would recommend this book to readers interested in India and the struggles the poor and women must face there. Suicide is discussed in detail within the book. Audiences who are sensitive to the subject may be disturbed by this.
The Elephant Chaser's Daughter
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