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Elephant Song Discussion Thread June 30, 2007

Posted by BrewFan in Literature.

This thread will be for discussing the O’Skinbad Book Club’s July selection. I have added a link in the blogroll for your commenting convenience.


1. Retired Geezer - June 30, 2007

Good job, Brew. I was wondering how it was going to be kept conveniently located.

I’ve never participated in a book discussion before. What about Spoilers?

2. BrewFan - June 30, 2007

Skinbad gets the credit for the idea. And the bill for services rendered. What can I say? I’m a consultant. Thats how I roll.

3. skinbad - June 30, 2007

Thanks Brew. I think we’re kind of winging it, R.G. Maybe just give a “spoiler alert” and chapter/page range at the top so people will know if they want to read on.

4. Sobek - June 30, 2007

I’ve got my ILL request in. 3-5 days from yesterday. I’d better hurry up with these Supreme Court opinions so I can focus. Anyone know how many pages it is?

5. skinbad - July 1, 2007

About 400. The word “hunchback” is used on one of the first pages. There’s also a dig at animal rights wackos.

6. Michael - July 1, 2007

The story involves one or more elephants.

*Michael pats self on back for first substantive comment*

*Michael heads for barnesandnoble.com to buy book*

7. Russ from Winterset - July 2, 2007

Mine will be in sometime this week. Wasn’t “Elephant Song” that Led Zep tune with all the screaming during the intro?

8. Retired Geezer - July 2, 2007

Russ, you’re right again.

Here it is

9. skinbad - July 2, 2007

By “about 400”, I seem to have meant “about 500” pages, that is. A little bit of wooden dialogue alert in the first thirty pages or so. People who would know what is going on are “talking” to each other only to feed the reader information. But it’s OK so far. I was in Africa in 89 and what they are doing with culling elephant herds and the debate about whether legal ivory trade should be allowed to help pay for conservation was real. Not sure what the current situation is. I guess I’ll have to find out.

10. geoff - July 2, 2007

I’m partial to Elephant Talk myself.

11. mesablue - July 2, 2007


Elephant porno.

12. Dave in Texas - July 2, 2007

oh brother.

I fed that one to the spam filter mesa.

13. Sobek - July 7, 2007

I just read the word hunchback, and immediately thought of you, Laura. You now own that word.

14. lauraw - July 7, 2007

There’s worse things.

15. Retired Geezer - July 7, 2007

I got my copy yesterday from the library. We have a pretty cool system here, I can go online and search from all the libraries in the Boise area and have them send it to my local library.

We’re going to Reno for Flyin’ Brian’s wedding. Guess I’ll read it there.

We have the new John Sandford book-on-CD, Invisible Prey to listen to on the way. (also from the library)

16. daveintexas - July 7, 2007

My copy showed up in the mail yesterday.

17. Sobek - July 7, 2007


The villain is Dr. No.

18. skinbad - July 7, 2007

I’m about 100 pages in. I’d say there is some PG-13 material. Hope no one is offended. Violence against kids, in particular, is hard to read about. I read a little more about the author. He has sold a staggering amount of books. Something like 80 million. “Politically correct” doesn’t really seem to apply to him.

19. daveintexas - July 7, 2007

Eldest kid said “oh you’re reading a book by Wilbur Smith? I haven’t read that one”.

Makes me ponder.

20. Wickedpinto - July 7, 2007

Elephant song?

Isn’t that the “skinnamarinky dink, skina-marinky doo?” thing?

I hated that.

Great space coaster any day.

21. Sobek - July 7, 2007

Pages 115-17: Woo hoo!!!

Also, Dr. No is well on his way to finding a good strangling-hobo after page 71.

Also also, I love when Jonny Nzou explains the difference between protectionism and conservationism.

22. Mrs. Michael - July 7, 2007

You guys are reminding me that I promised to purchase this book via B&N for Michael since I am the one with the Reader’s discount card. THANKS!

I will want to read it too. Wilbur Smith is one of my faves!

23. daveintexas - July 7, 2007

I can’t read 117 pages tonight, I want to go see LForDH

Perhaps eldest will relent.

24. kevlarchick - July 7, 2007

I bought Blue Horizon by Wilbur Smith while at the beach. It was in a dusty old used bookstore and I couldn’t find our assigned title. I will get caught up.

25. Mrs. Peel - July 7, 2007

L for DH? Lusting for Deathly Hallows?

oh wait, live free or die hard. oh ok. Sorry, I have a one-track mind at the moment.

26. Sobek - July 7, 2007

I predict that Chetti Singh and/or Chawe will be eaten by an animal with a sore anus.

27. skinbad - July 7, 2007

Sobek makes guest appearance. No wonder he is excited.

“grotesque hunchbacked creature” p. 196. Lauraw should really be reading this.


28. skinbad - July 7, 2007

Sobek #26,

You’re in the middle of War and Peace aren’t you?

29. Wickedpinto - July 7, 2007

since I am the one with the Reader’s discount card

HAHAHAHA Mrs. Michael says michaels illiterate!


30. Russ from Winterset - July 8, 2007

Dave, the Mrs. and I drove up to Des Moines & killed 2 birds with 1 stone: we saw LF or DH AND picked up my special order copy of Elephant Song. I’m only up to page 37 (only been home for a half hour or so), but the blurb on the back cover makes me think we’re gonna be in for some CHICKA-CHICKA-BOW, CHICKA-BOW-BOW before the end of the book.

“…naturalist Dr. Daniel Armstrong and anthropologist Kelly Kinnear fight the battle of their lives against terrifying adversaries – right after they finish BURYING THE DUCK* like crazed minks”.

(* – reader’s embellishment)

31. BrewFan - July 8, 2007

I was on the fence as to whether I was going to read this book. Russ has helped me make up my mind. I’m going to the library tomorrow.

32. kevlarchick - July 8, 2007

Smith does some nice sex scenes I admit. And the women in his books are strong and saucy wenches.

Lots of violence; but I suppose it’s in the context of the time and setting.

33. daveintexas - July 8, 2007

ok I suck, I caven’t cracked the cover.

34. The Elephant - July 8, 2007

If I leave here tomorrow,
Will you still remember me?
I must be traveling on now,
‘Cuz there’s too many places I’ve got to be.

If I stayed here with you girl,
things just wouldn’t be the same.
‘Cuz I’m as free as a bird now (HOW ‘BOUT YOU?)
And this bird you cannot tame

whoa whoa whoa whoa

And this bird you cannot taaaaaaame

35. The Elephant - July 8, 2007

Thank you, thank you. We’ll be here all week. Try the veal, and don’t forget to tip your waitresses.

The band and I are going to take a little break now to chow down on some acacia pods, but don’t worry, we’ll be back. I promise. And everyone knows that “I say what I mean and I mean what I said, ‘cuz an elephant’s faithful 100%.”

36. Russ from Winterset - July 8, 2007

OK, not to be “Nitpicking Factchecking Guy”, but the fifth paragraph of Chapter 7 refers to hippopotamus as “monstrous amphibians”. Looks like SOMEBODY needs to go back and repeat 10th Grade biology.

37. Sobek - July 8, 2007

What I don’t get is that the protagonist does the nasty with some chick only a chapter or two after she is described as “not pretty.”

38. The Chick - July 8, 2007

Yeah but I have other skilz.

39. Sobek - July 9, 2007

Perky bosoms don’t count as skills.

40. Sobek - July 9, 2007

Okay, I’m done.

41. Dave in Texas - July 9, 2007

They count as assets, if not skills.

42. A Horny Rhino - July 9, 2007

Hey you people! Keep it down over there! Can’t you see I’m trying to get busy here?

I swear to God, if you don’t shut up, I’m gonna come over there & unleash the beast all over the bush you’re trying to hide behind.

43. wiserbud - July 9, 2007

Okay, I’m done. – Sobek

Great. Now get started on the book.

44. skinbad - July 9, 2007

Wiser will be happy to know I’m about. half. way. there. Uungh.

Smith mentions the “benevolent despot” a few times. There are, and were, some non-benevolent bastards leading African countries. The Peace Corps people I met in The Congo (back then “Zaire”) were generally, dumb young college liberals. I’m not being harsh. I was dumb, young and not so liberal. They were very down on the US and the CIA in particular for supporting Mobutu in Zaire. He was a pretty rotten character and I agreed we shouldn’t be supporting someone like that. As I’ve gotten older, I guess the “realpolitik” idea seems to have grown on me. Soviet expansion was real. We supported “our son of a bitch” in quite a few places. I have very little problem with it anymore. We were doing what we could with the conditions as they existed.

45. Russ from Winterset - July 9, 2007

Just finished it a half hour ago. Damn, talk about a sudden ending.

I liked the advice the main character remembered his father giving him somewhere in the middle of the book: “If you don’t like black people, don’t live in Africa.” Geez, if only life were that simple.

46. BeFriends - July 10, 2007

Great, The image is very nice.

Egg plant tutorial is great.

47. Sobek - July 10, 2007

Horny Rhino, that was probably the best part of the book. “Close your eyes and think of England.” Heh.

48. skinbad - July 13, 2007

About to page 300. Enjoyed the description of aid to Africa–the means by which poor white people give money to rich black men for deposit in Swiss bank accounts.

Also liked the line about any country with the phrase “democratic republic of” in its title, can assuredly be a socialist shit-hole.

“There’s nothing uglier than a drunk pygmy.” Ha.

If I figure out how to scan some slides I’m going to bore you all to tears. “Ubomo” or whatever he’s calling his country is geographically, just like the eastern side of the Congo and Rwanda. About four of us had a great hike in the forest with a park ranger. We ran into some pygmies getting honey out of a tree about 80 feet up. We stayed and watched the operation and bought some honey from them when they were done. We didn’t meet any topless white chicks with wrist rockets jogging (and joggling) through the forest, but the geographic descriptions are bringing back lots of fun memories for me.

49. daveintexas - July 17, 2007

Ok, ok. I’ll start it tonight and finish it on the plane Friday.

Eddie and I have been talking about our joint recommendation.. I suggested Naughty Nymphs from the Planet Playtex, a delightful tale of romance and adventure, but Ed went all highbrow on me and picked some goofy book about the Hamilton / Burr feud.

50. Sobek - July 17, 2007

Dave, it’s a quick read if you have the time. I read the whole thing between a Saturday and Sunday. But I was also mildly guilty of child- and spouse-neglect that week-end, so I don’t do that very often.

51. Dave in Texas - July 17, 2007

Yeah, I was trying to time it to the trip this week.

But kc got me all interested in checkin out the hot parts now.

52. Sobek - July 17, 2007

Oh, there are hot parts, all right. Just ask the rhino.

53. Retired Geezer - July 17, 2007

Actually got to read a few pages during the trip to Reno for FB’s wedding.

I’m only on page 40 though.

You guys go on ahead, I’ll catch up.

54. daveintexas - July 22, 2007

Far as I can tell, the Rhino is gettin the best action here.

I’m through 300 pages.

55. geoff - July 23, 2007

Just checked a copy out of the library. I’ll have to play catch up.

56. Wickedpinto - July 23, 2007

Isn’t “the elephant song”
the one that goes.

Eye Love You.

Isn’t that the elephant song?

57. kevlarchick - July 26, 2007

Good lord this book is violent. I will keep on it awhile longer.

58. Michael - July 26, 2007

I’m almost halfway through — can I skip ahead to the rhino sex?

59. geoff - July 26, 2007

Kind of nauseated by the elephant cull at the beginning – I’ll have to regroup and forge ahead after my innards settle down.

60. Michael - July 26, 2007

The violence gets much worse, Geoff.

61. daveintexas - July 26, 2007

he grabs you with that at the beginning, I’ll give him that

62. Pupster - July 26, 2007

I dunno guys. I’m more than halfway through the book and I want to go to Africa even less than before.

Maybe we should pick on Skinbad now that he’s not here to defend himself.


*starts browsing through Utah pictures*

63. Retired Geezer - July 26, 2007

I’m in Ubomo, on page 388.

Why couldn’t we have a Long book for our first selection?

*glares at Skinbad*

64. geoff - July 26, 2007

The violence gets much worse, Geoff.

That’s very comforting. I’m a big fan of cartoon violence, a la Hong Kong martial arts movies, Japanese anime, or action flicks. Real violence, though, is not my thing.

65. Michael - July 26, 2007

Yeah, a long book printed in microscopic font .

*throws darts at Skinbad picture*

I think this is all some kind of librarian joke, and Skinny is laughing his ass off up there in Alaska.

66. Michael - July 26, 2007

Real violence, though, is not my thing.

Prepare to cringe.

67. daveintexas - July 26, 2007

I like violence.

They smell like petunias

68. Michael - July 26, 2007

Interesting observation regarding the “sad truth” that Africa “no longer mattered”:

All the fifty member states of the Organization of African Unity combined were capable of generating only the same gross domestic product as little Belgium in the northern hemisphere. (p. 258)

69. Sobek - July 26, 2007

Yes, there’s a lot of violence, and very little of it actually has anything to do with elephants. Other than the cull at the beginning, there’s only one other elephant in the book, and it only gets a cameo.

70. Retired Geezer - July 27, 2007

there’s only one other elephant in the book, and it only gets a cameo.

Man, I bet that thing was Yuge.

71. Redneck Dude - July 27, 2007

An elephant… in a Camaro?

Now you’re just being silly.

72. Retired Geezer - July 27, 2007

*breathes sigh of relief*

Finished it!

*looks at the size of the next book*


73. That next book - July 27, 2007


Never fear. I’m only 300 pages

74. Dave in Texas - July 27, 2007

I woke up this morning and saw an elephant in my Camaro.

wait, that’s not it.

75. kevlarchick - July 27, 2007

I shoulda brought the book to work today. Hotmail server’s down. What else is there to do?

76. Jimmy Buffett - July 27, 2007

I have a suggestion…

77. skinbad - July 30, 2007

I finished it on the drive to the airport (I wasn’t driving). Pretty abrupt ending, as someone said. Like he reached the number of pages he was contracted to do and got tired of it. I thought it was good though. Someone told me the one Smith wrote about the diamond miners in South Africa was his favorite. I tend to think about tribalism quite a bit when I think about Africa. It’s odd to U.S. citizens to think that the country boundaries mean so little to many people. They are just artificial lines drawn on the map. Their allegiance is to their tribe. “How can it ever get better?” is one of the big questions in the book. I keep thinking that if conversion to Christianity on a large scale could happen, so that the people were invested in “love thy brother as they self,” and “of you it is required to forgive all men,” etc. maybe the situation could improve.

78. Retired Geezer - July 30, 2007

We watched ‘Blood Diamond’ last night. Pretty chilling scenes of young boys taken and brainwashed into becoming little terrorists.

The fact that the price of diamonds is artificially controlled, just pisses me off.

In other news, our good friends from the church are going on a Medical Mission to Somolia in a couple of months.

79. Michael - July 30, 2007

Pretty abrupt ending, as someone said.

No kidding. I just finished last night, and as I approached the last few pages I couldn’t figure out how he would wind everything up. Then the book stopped. Weird.

Overall, I thought the book was OK, but way less than what I had expected after reading River God.

Mrs. Michael is reading Triumph of the Sun, by the way, about the fall of Khartoum in the late 1800s. She thinks it is fantastic — like River God.

80. skinbad - July 30, 2007

So River God and Triumph are not part of a series? I’m much more likely to try them if not. I read something about some of his books about ancient Egypt that are connected. I’m not looking for connectedness at this point. I grabbed a collection of Philip K. Dick stories on the way out the door and am about half way through The Man in the High Castle. Interesting, alternate past story about the U.S. losing the 2nd World War. The U.S. is partitioned and Germany controls the east and Japan the west. I wonder what Geoff or other sci-fi buffs would think.

81. geoff - July 30, 2007

Read it 30 years ago and barely remember it, except for the ending, sort of. I like most of his stuff, though.

82. Michael - July 30, 2007

Nope, River God is Ancient Egypt, Triumph is 1880s Khartoum. If memory serves, River God had a sort-of sequel set in modern times, and my vague recollection is that it was a disappointment.

83. Sobek - August 3, 2007

July is over so I figure I can go ahead with some commentary. SPOILER ALERT!

1. I think it’s interesting that in the first few pages of the first chapter, we have a sophisticated and interesting discussion of the difference between conservationism and protectionism, explaining how some ostensible environmentalists are as bad for the environment as the “greedy corporations” they supposedly fight. And yet, after that introduction, the rest of the plot involves the almost cartoonishly villainous Gong, who expressly intends to leave African nations desolate. It’s like he just walked out of a Disney movie, twirling his moustache in a sinister fashion and wondering out loud how he can make his machines create more pollution, regardless of corresponding economic benefit.

2. I also wonder about the title. As I noted before, the book has almost nothing to do with elephants (a bit more to do with ivory, but even that becomes a subplot once we get to Ubomo, where Gong is far more interested in hardwoods and mineral deposits than the one elephant that gets killed.

Maybe the answer has something to do with the stark parallel in the beginning of the book between the culling of the herd and the “culling” of the humans. That is, the book starts out discussing threats to elephant populations, but it’s really more about the threat to human populations, as graphically illustrated in Ubomo. That certainly is consistent with my point above, that for all its nuance at the beginning, this book is really about simple black and white, flower-children versus greedy-exploiters hackery.

I just picked up the August book, and I look forward to reading it.

84. eddiebear - August 3, 2007


I am almost finished with Duel, and while I knew the general story behind Burr/Hamilton, the specifics are thrilling.

85. Dave in Texas - August 3, 2007

spoiler alerts so don’t read if you aren’t done yet.

I like fast cars and fast women.

I do. I am not making this up.

and pie. I like pie.

OK, I have to admit I pretty much gave up on it somewhere around page 390. It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t grab me. The violent stuff was well written, the action was good, but the characters didn’t compel me. At some point I found myself wishing Armstrong would just get on with it.

The interlude where he worked on his film, and then magical good things happened just bugged me. Filler. And the enviro-preachalism grated. The Margaret Mead character made me want to smack my thumb with a hammer, and the camera chick character was no damn good and we all knew it. Hell the only character I liked was Tug, and he was a big corporatist evil muthafucka.

So, not awful. Just not a really compelling story to me.

I gotta order my Burrbook now.

86. kevlarchick - August 3, 2007

I like his series about the Courtneys, specifically Blue Horizon.

87. Retired Geezer - August 3, 2007

Shouldn’t we have another link for the Duel book?

I haven’t started it yet, cause… you know… I got my xbox360 back today.

88. Michael - August 3, 2007

I’ll put up a post (and bookmark in the blogroll) for Duel.

89. Michael - August 3, 2007

Certainly the characters in Elephant Song were extraordinarily flat, and the plot was on par with thrillers you buy at the airport bookstore to kill time. What saved the book for me, and made it worthwhile, was that the description of Africa — it’s landscape, people, animals, plants — was very evocative. You could tell that Smith has a genuine love for his home continent.

90. Sobek - August 3, 2007

Plus, a bad guy got eaten by a crocodile.

I think Michael has it right. The plot is good enough for one reading, but the characters are all one-dimensional (none of them evolve or grow in any meaningful way). I liked reading about Africa, and how beautiful-yet-suck-tastic it tends to be.

91. daveintexas - August 3, 2007

I still like to eat play-dough.

92. harrison - August 3, 2007

It’s paste for me.

93. AmurlSmummold - September 7, 2007

A new report by the British Medical Association (BMA) and the anti-tobacco group Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
smoking impotence causes impotenc
e presents a stark contrast to the slick advertising images of rugged, sexy male smokers.
The report estimates 120,000 men in Britain are impotent as a direct result of their habit and says a recent MORI poll showed 88 percent of smokers do not know the sexual risks they are taking.
Both groups are urging the British Caverta smoking causes impotence government and the European Union to add new warnings on cigarette packets saying smoking causes impotence and can damage sperm.

94. Wickedpinto - September 7, 2007

Let me say this.

I, the wickedpinto, Smoke.

Study disproven.

(god that was so lame)

95. pjmomma - September 28, 2007

really? well, Es war die am meisten seltsame Videokassette niemals

96. Michael - September 29, 2007

This thread has become a spam magnet. The last comment by RedNikki smells like a virus. I don’t know why, but this seems to happen repeatedly on our book discussion threads. I’m going to clean up and then shut down comments.

97. Michael - September 29, 2007

PJ’s comment no longer makes sense, but it was funny, even in German. She basically said a weird (and now deleted) German comment was the strangest video ever.

Rednikki was indeed a virus — Cathy got infected and now is working with McAffee to get red of it.

Here’s a tip — if you ever click on a link and then can’t get rid of a screen (which invites you to download an “AcitveX udate” or something) by using “Cancel” or clicking the little red X, DO NOT GO FORWARD OR CLICK “OK”.

In this situation, Control/Alt/Delete is your friend. Just use this to kill the whole program — usually your browser or email client. DO NOT CLICK “OK”.

Trust me, I have spent many many hours fighting to recover my computer as a result of clicking OK just to get rid of some annoying window. Big mistake.

98. Sobek - October 4, 2007

Oh, I’ll schicken all right.

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