Leaving Time & Larger Than Life by Jodi Picoult

My mother gave me three books for Christmas this year, all of which she read and loved in 2016. Finally, I read the first of these three while in Croatia - a Jodi Picoult book, Leaving Time, and the accompanying novella, Larger Than Life, each centered on elephants, family bonds, memory, grief and unnatural death. I hadn't actually known that this was the 'elephant book' my mom kept raving about but, when I started it, I got it: Damn, elephants.

Picoult's book was the perfect summer holiday weekend read, in that it grips you from the first few pages with its perfect formula of missing mother + trailblazing daughter + elephant sanctuary + psychic + alcoholic ex-cop. An obvious combination, right?

Because this is a mystery, I am reluctant to write much more on the story that unfolds, but I can say more about how captivated I was by the setting. From game parks in Botswana and South Africa to elephant sanctuaries in New Hampshire and Tennessee, Picoult certainly covered her ground when it game to establishing a strong foundation of elephant knowledge throughout the book, totally encompassing the reader in this alternate reality of bull mutsch, calf dependency and matriarch leadership. Within this reality is also the harsh truth of natural and unnatural elephant deaths - by stillborn, starvation, culling or poaching - and the way it appears they grieve like humans. I found myself regularly stopping to google elephant YouTube videos as I read this book because it invited you into such new territory, roamed by a species so distinct in their ways.

One of the most amazing things about elephants mourning in the wild is their ability to grieve hard, but then truly, unequivocally, let go. Humans can’t seem to do that. I’ve always thought it’s because of religion. We expect to see our loved ones again in the next life, whatever that might be. Elephants don’t have that hope, only the memories of this life. Maybe that’s why it is easier for them to move on.
— Jodi Picoult, Leaving Time

Particularly fascinating was the amount of research Picoult did to shape this narrative. She went to a Botswana game park to learn about elephants in the wild. Also, while the New Hampshire sanctuary is fictive, the Tennessee elephant sanctuary is not, and all of the elephant characters of the book are actually based on the stories of the rescued elephants this Tennessee sanctuary hosts.

In the wild, a calf under the age of two will not survive without its mother. In the wild, a mother’s job is to teach her daughter everything she will need to know to become a mother herself. In the wild, a mother and daughter stay together until one of them dies.
— Jodi Picoult, Leaving Time

Finally, what was especially sweet about this book is that it all started with a fact Picoult came across about elephants: Mother and daughters are together until one of them dies. This led her down the rabbit hole of all things elephant and, from there, this book was birthed.

I cannot help but hope that is also why my mother insisted I read this 'elephant book'. Thanks, Mom!