Feb 23, 2009


the True Story of the Greatest Elephant that Ever Lived
by Ralph Helfer

This is the story of a lifelong bond- between a boy and an elephant. Bram, son of an elephant trainer and Modoc, an asian elephant, were born on the same day in German circus. They grew up as constant companions. When the circus was sold and the animals shipped off to America, Bram went along as a stowaway. During the ocean crossing, Bram and half a dozen other people survived a shipwreck by clinging to the elephant, and washed ashore in India. Bram tried to hide Modoc so she wouldn't be taken away from him, and spent several years in India dodging revolutionaries and learning elephant wisdom from the forest mahouts. But eventually Modoc's American owner learned of their whereabouts, and Bram and his elephant ended up in New York. There Modoc eventually became a star performer, but sadly, this did not mean she was well-treated. The elephant suffered abuse from a drunken handler for years until she was sold again, this time separated from Bram. Helfer, an animal trainer in Hollywood, acquired her and was astonished at her range of performing skills. He nursed her back to health, while Bram and his friends continued searching for their "lost" elephant, hoping against all odds to be reunited again.

Modoc: the True Story of the Greatest Elephant that Ever Lived is a story that amazed me- simply because it is based on true events. It was very touching to read of all the hardships and adventures Bram and his elephant went through, to be together. The writing is very plain, and sometimes it gets melodramatic, but I enjoyed the story. I did like Helfer's book about the lion Zamba better. Perhaps because Helfer was writing from his own direct experience in that book, whereas in this one he only knew the elephant at the end of her life, and although the bulk of the story is based on fact, he had to fill in a lot of details with fictional conversations and such. If you liked Water for Elephants, you might enjoy Modoc as well. It gives a different perspective on circus life.

Rating: 3/5                    325 pages, 1997

More opinions at: Under the Dresser
anyone else?

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