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Elephant Winter by Kim Echlin
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Elephant Winter

by Kim Echlin

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When she learns that her mother is dying, Sophie Walker must give up her nomadic lifestyle and leave Zimbabwe to return to the family farm in southern Ontario. As she contemplates her life, she looks out her mother’s kitchen window, at the snowy winter landscape … and a herd of Asian elephants. The adjacent property is not a farm, but a small safari park. Sophie interprets a gesture from the elephants’ trainer, Jo Mann, as an invitation, and ventures onto the park grounds. Thus, begins her “elephant winter.”

This is really a character-based story, though there are some significant events, including a couple of violent altercations. Mostly, however, Echlin treats the reader to Sophie’s thoughts as she considers her mother’s condition, her role as daughter, lover, friend, her past and future. And she has conversations with her mother, a wildlife painter, on the importance of work, of finding your passion, of following your dream, of being a mother.

I really liked Echlin’s writing style. There was something so quiet and comforting about it. And still her imagery is very vivid. Some examples:
The light over those snowy Ontario fields was short and grey and bleak. We were just past winter solstice and though I’d been home some weeks, I still found it odd to look through the kitchen window and see the curious face of a giraffe above the snowy maple trees.

I listened to the creaking of the barnboard, to the breath of the elephants, to the cracking to frozen branches outside. I could feel the elephants rumbling … For as long as I could I lay listening to all the sounds of the barn and beyond.

I heard her loneliness rattling around like a pea in a dried-up pod.

Winter came twice that year. The earth had been wet and fragrant and then there was a spring snowstorm. Chickadees tucked themselves against frozen tree trunks and curled their heads under plumped-up wings.

The thin dawn taped itself like a piece of old and yellowing cellophane to the horizon and the cold adhered to my skin.

Echlin intersperses chapters from Sophie’s work on Elephant language throughout the book. There are studies on elephants and their communication methods, but this is, of course, total fiction; still, I found it just fascinating.

Note There are scenes where animals are injured or die. Readers who are sensitive to such scenes are forewarned. ( )
  BookConcierge | Mar 1, 2018 |
I enjoyed the mood of this book ,and the cold winter feel to it. Sophie is a very real character who I liked very much and I liked learning about elephant behavior with her. Her relationship with her dying mother, who she comes home to be with, was very touching and real as they both deal with the pain of terminal cancer and relive the past together. The main focus in the novel is the elephants and how closely their lives mirror Sophie"s . A interesting book. ( )
  Smits | Dec 7, 2014 |
First lines:
~I am called the Elephant-Keeper, which suits me. My name is Sophie Walker. When I am not at the elephant barns, I live in a crowded house near a tacky commercial tourist farm in southern Ontario. I have a daughter and I take care of the elephants~

I was looking for a book to meet the February RandomCat Challenge out of the 2013 Category Challenge Group (Read a book with a title, author, or character that brings to mind some of the weather events we typically experience during the month of February) and I found this. The bonus is that it also fit my personal challenge to read books by Canadian authors.

I loved this short book. It is about a young woman who moves back home to care for her mother who is dying from cancer. Their home backs onto a Safari Park and she begins a deeply intimate relationship with the elephants and their keeper. Kim Echlin is from Ontario and I have been to the African Lion Safari Park that she bases this tale on.

The book is about community and communication and love and loss and death and life and is so beautifully written.

My own mother died on Feb 9th, 2007 and reading this book, at this time of year, was especially poignant as I was reminded of the many, many moments that made the time around her dying a sacred and meaningful experience. I became closer to her than ever before in those final weeks. I loved Echlin’s description of the many, many moments that made Sophie and her mother's experience of dying sacred and meaningful, and, yet, at the same time, she does not shy away from depicting the difficulties such experience brings.

And, I loved the depiction of the community and culture of the Asian elephants that teach Sophie so much about life and living.

I was touched and uplifted. I was not aware of Kim Echlin before this and am looking forward to reading more of her work. ( )
  ccookie | Feb 7, 2013 |
A good story set in the Africa Lion Safari Park, near where I live in Ontario.
Elephants figure prominently but there is love, loss, illness (human and animal) etc.
And people for those of you who need them in your stories too. I loved it. ( )
  posthumose | Dec 4, 2007 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kim Echlinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Scerbanenco, CeciliaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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