advance praise for The Tusk That Did the Damage
Although it has much insight and nuance to add to the [ivory] discourse, James’s inventive new novel has a far broader vision, one that will likely outlast this iteration of the ivory conversation. With remarkable brevity, The Tusk That Did the Damage delves into India’s mythic, troubled history with elephants — a strange marriage of reverence and violence — and asks readers to imagine the incomprehensible, to experience the world, for a few moments, through the eyes of a killer elephant called the Gravedigger.
The Tusk That Did the Damage is a bighearted, morally complex novel… James skillfully blends the suspense of a thriller and the erotic tensions of two romantic triangles with mythical, mournful flashbacks to Gravedigger’s life and ancestry. All this is leavened by her witty portrayals of the zealous, cagey, overbearing park official, Madame Samina Hakim, and the uncle, called Synthetic Achan because he rails against Coca-Cola and other artificial foods. Tusk nimbly divulges virtues and vulnerabilities so readers come to empathize with everyone, especially with Gravedigger, the very soul of the novel.
This gorgeously written novel is unlike anything I’ve ever read, and unlike anything you’ve ever read too—unless you can tell me honestly you’ve read something with an elephant narrator. (There are a couple human ones too.) James’s debut—which is set against the backdrop of the shady ivory market and which delves into the perspectives of a poacher, a filmmaker, and the elephant, Gravedigger—is thought-provoking but never feels like heavy lifting.
Tania James’s impressive new novel, “The Tusk That Did the Damage,” brings a sharp and unnerving sensibility to bear on dismal and necessary events…When the stories of the Gravedigger, the poacher and the filmmaker inevitably converge, the novel veers toward a fatalistic irony, but in James’s assured and skillful treatment, the result is stark tragedy.
[A] narrative that’s heart-racingly paced, with each perspective taking a chapter in turn—three interwoven stories that converge with a devastating, compelling fatality…This is a story that moves between the humid intensity of southern India’s jungles, the cool assurance of the American’s editing studio, and the elephant’s primordial internal landscape with grace and humour, as light-footed as a poacher.
The rural India described by these spiraling voices seems haunted, seeded with gods, ghosts and myth…As a novelist, James may be handicapped by the innate mysteriousness of these animal-gods, but, perhaps for this reason, her elephants loom larger than life.
Original and multi-layered … captivating storylines and searing imagery. In clear, elegant prose, James captures the majestic beauty of elephants, the despair of impoverished villagers, and their bloody attempts at self-reliance…. delicious, lyrical writing: You won’t soon forget her description of the “magical organ” that is an elephant’s trunk, “like an arm exploding out from the middle of the face, packed with enough muscle to knock down a tree, enough control in its tiny, tapering finger to grip a lima bean.” James conveys a palpable, infectious empathy for an animal that fascinates us from afar, even as she probes the mindset of the disadvantaged people driven to hunt it.
TUSK…will leave you breathless as you follow three narrators across the wild plains of India. A poacher, a documentary filmmaker, and an elephant called the Gravedigger all illuminate the complexities of the country and culture, and you’ll be stunned by the author’s portrayal of the magnificent, tusked animals central to the characters’ lives.
Utterly enthralling…a story that is bound to leave marks, but the best ones always do.
In The Tusk That Did the Damage, James grounds a moral investigation in fallible human (and animal) emotionality: her prose is simple and beautiful, and her characters, both human and pachyderm, are lovingly rendered. But mostly you’ll come away with a dreadfully heightened awareness of our careless destruction of the natural world.
James has surpassed expectations with her newest novel…a poignant, beautifully written and thoughtful allegory that details the epic struggle between animals and humans for scarce resources and limited territory.
The Tusk that Did the Damage is spectacular, a pinwheeling multi-perspectival novel with a cast that includes my favorite character of recent memory, ‘the Gravedigger,’ an orphaned homicidal elephant. Tania James is one of our best writers, and here she is at the height of her powers: brilliant, hilarious, capable of the most astonishing cross-cultural interspecies ventriloquies and acrobatic leaps of empathy. You will read this ravishing novel in an afternoon and immediately want to press it on your favorite people.
The Tusk That Did the Damage is a novel of great moral intensity, with the pacing of a thriller. Everyone is implicated. Everyone is righteous. Tania James’ gift, her genius, is to turn this scenario into an occasion for grace.
The Tusk That Did the Damage is one of the most unusual and affecting books I’ve read in a long time. Narrated by a poacher, a filmmaker, and, most brilliantly, an elephant, this is a compulsively readable, devastating novel.
This second novel may be [James’] true coming out…Ivory trading, poaching, an escaped elephant, a risky love affair, all set in rural South India and “blend[ing] the mythical and the political”—this novel seems to have it all.
VERDICT: Fascinating facts and fiction about elephants are presented, and James’s gift for the side-by-side portrayal of different cultures is evident here, as in her previous books. The complexity of the issues involved make this a perfect book club choice.
A novel with the brevity, polish, and resonance of a folk tale, both timeless and firmly anchored in the present, The Tusk That Did the Damage explores the complexities of the ivory trade without ever becoming didactic…James’ blend of compassion and restraint, and her simply gorgeous prose add up to perfection. Tusk is captivating, heartbreaking, lovely.
The Tusk That Did The Damage is a remarkably accomplished novel and covers a lot of ground in relatively few pages, largely because of James’ ability to switch registers, from the earthy to the lyrical, with ease.
Ambitious…original…moving…James tells three intersecting stories involving a murderous elephant on the loose in an Indian jungle. Part of the novel follows an elephant, the Gravedigger, and does a stunning job evoking an animal’s sensory world…These sections also heartbreakingly capture the elephant’s terror and confusion in the face of human cruelty…This narrative is a tour de force.
Intense and unusual…swaying ponderously between realms of lore, romance, and reality to create a heavily symbolic and achingly tragic work of fiction.
praise & press for Aerogrammes
Get ready for a collection of love stories that absolutely doesn’t include a variation on Cinderella-plus-Prince…every single story contains a similarly minute but luminous event, each a reminder that love entails a lot of wear and tear—but on a good day, lets us transcend the average with a little mystery called tenderness.
These feats of emotional range and inventiveness require a precise clarity of vision, especially in a collection as cohesive as Aerogrammes. Along with James’s compassion and wit, not to mention her crisp, luminous prose, that vision makes the stories in Aerogrammes a delight to read, whether in prudent intervals or a single glorious banquet.
[T]he mystery of identity is universal, and James and her generation of post-colonial, second-generation Americans are not alone in seeking to penetrate it. Like all great fiction, James’s stories emerge from a strange and beautiful source of inspiration, then proceed to transcend it…the still and elegant voice of a generous writer telling us that we are not alone.
James works magic again and again in capturing the heart of relationships between siblings and across generations.
The stories’ deep sadness is so beautifully written it takes the reader by surprise. The tales are quiet and unfold gently but pack an emotional wallop.
Thankfully, ‘sophomore slump’ is not part of Tania James’ vocabulary…James manages to sustain an unwavering level of resonating quality throughout each of the nine stories in Aerogrammes: each story is a world unto itself, standing fully formed with little lacking.
A chimpanzee and a ghost are among the characters entangled in sticky human relationships in these lyrical, warmhearted tales.
Victorious…[Aerogrammes’] nine stories crisscross in and out of reality…But throughout, the constant is James’s ability to render strong characters and tender relationships. Some are real and some are clearly imagined, but they all come to feel authentic and deftly drawn.
“[J]am-packed and hectically lovely…
The stories in Aerogrammes uphold our notion of the Possible, solidly grounded in what could reasonably happen to its characters in the modern world, but allowing us a hungry glance toward the fantastic edge of each reality. All of this our author does in prose that glides so smoothly you’d think you’re hydroplaning between covers. It doesn’t even slow you down to notice how sad she’s made you feel.”
“[A] first-rate new collection…James’ prose is clean, deep, limpid;
the stories she builds throw strange, beautiful light on completely unexpected places…
their cumulative grip is real, fresh, and worthy.”
“In her first short story collection,
James, whose debut novel Atlas of Unknowns dazzled us, returns with a vengeance, with nine expertly crafted, beautifully set tales that careen from tender to funny to crisp,
but always say exactly what they mean.”
“Although most of the characters in these nine immaculately crafted short stories share a common native land—Kerala in southern India—their range of emotions is brilliantly diverse…
James understands the nuances of emotional displacement.”
“By turns rib-shakingly funny and poignant, pinwheeling and wise, these stories are always devastatingly candid when it comes to their central preoccupations: exile and identity, the fault lines inside a family, grief and love…
Proof that the short story is joyfully, promiscuously, thrillingly alive.”
“Tania James’ stories are funny, deeply tender, and each-and-every-one memorable.
Aerogrammes is a gift of a collection from a talent who only grows.”
“These are stories that map out a fresh new world between America and South Asia with a rare blend of humor and sensitivity.
Surprising and affecting.”
“At every turn, James’ prose is crisp, observant and carefully controlled…
James projects a deep emotional intelligence.”
“A satisfying collection for lovers of short fiction from a refreshingly authentic voice.”
“Lushly exploring themes of identity and recognition, singularity and community,
James crafts taut, complete worlds populated by complex yet recognizable characters
who ultimately achieve catharsis and obtain enlightenment, often through unplanned and unconventional methods.”
praise & press for Atlas of Unknowns
“Once in a while, a novel comes along that makes you wonder why people don’t read more fiction–
why, given the right book, anyone would choose to do anything else. Atlas of Unknowns, the dazzling, original and deeply absorbing debut by Tania James, is this rare book…”
“Not your standard growing-up-in-India story…
James has concocted a charming seriocomic blend of individuals, cultures and expectations in which every component retains its individuality.”
“Delightful… James writes with poise, sly humor, and an acuity both cultural and sensuous…
The characters’ love for one other radiates off the page.”
“As spectacular a debut as any author could hope for…
With keen insight and seminal prose James has fashioned a Bildungsroman of a family saga… The breadth and depth of Atlas of Unknowns indicates that its author is as wise beyond her years as she is gifted.”
“James’ incandescent debut novel is a skillfully nuanced examination of the immigrant experience from the perspectives of those who leave and those who are left behind…
James writes with a silken elegance and solid assurance that will garner inevitable comparisons to Jhumpa Lahiri, accolades that are both apt and well-deserved.”
“Share this book
with your mother, your sister, your friend—they will thank you for it.”
“Tania James acutely charts the shifting sands of the siblings’ relationship – supportive, rivialrous, loyal and loving – with tender compassion…
This delightful debut is an insightful study of leave-taking and homecoming.”
“One of the most engaging literary reads of the year”
“Warm, beguiling, refreshingly smart…
Broadly speaking, [Atlas] concerns the interweaving of globalization and desire — how channels of love and longing bend (or break) when forced into the arcs linking today’s culturally crisscrossed societies.”
“A brilliant panorama of the human condition… An unputdownable page-turner.
So assured is the narration, so finished the skill, that you keep reminding yourself it is the work of a first time novelist.”
“Painted with exquisite imagery… Lines read as if they are extracted from poems, creating a story that is
not only entertaining but a true piece of art.”
“A wonderful achievement…
The beautifully observed characters are engaging and draw the reader effortlessly into their different dreams and aspirations.”