Young Nandu, found in the jungle as a toddler and adopted by Subba-sahib, head of the king of Nepal’s elephant stable, is back, now 13 and an accomplished elephant driver in this sequel to What Elephants Know (2016).
It is a year of drought, but Nandu’s worries include more than just the lack of water that affects the stable’s elephants. There is danger from earthquakes (the story opens with one), wild animals, and humans—both poachers and the corrupt government officials who protect them. Nandu’s strong bond with his elephant brother, Hira Prashad, fuels his determination to keep all animals safe and treat them respectfully. There is assistance from old friends—Subba-sahib, the holy Baba, white missionary Father Autry, and young Rita, who cares for the orphaned rhino babies and elephant calves—and new ones: three young Jumli girls and a Raute boy that Nandu and other elephant drivers rescue in the forest. One of the book’s strengths is its awareness of the region’s ethnic complexity. Nandu himself is well fleshed out, and his joy, sorrow, anger, and struggles are very real and approachable. Conservationist Dinerstein highlights the intelligence of the elephants, the bravery of the young people, and the intimate connections among all living beings in the forest. Enough backstory is provided to make this a satisfying stand-alone; a glossary and author’s note are included, but a map is a notable omission.
Heartfelt, compelling, and genuine, this book takes readers to where the action is, in the Nepalese jungle. (Historical fiction. 9-13)