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The Burning Elephant

224 pages
Paperback, 19.7 x 13 cm
Published September 2015
ISBN 9781922146922

The Burning Elephant

Christopher Raja

An escaped elephant enters Govinda’s schoolyard, and frightens everyone. The young boy watches on in horror as the elephant is shot and then cremated. Is this a sign for dark days ahead? He has been having a hard time trying to please his father, the headmaster, and figure out his mother – something seems wrong with her but Govinda is not sure what. Mumbles, the family’s cook, is a Sikh and worried about the violence on the streets against members of his religion. In The Burning Elephant, we step into Govinda’s Calcutta, a world which revolves around the magic and menace of Serpent Lane, just beyond the school gates, and spins out into a city and country in crisis, when the Prime Minister is assassinated. This is a story of how the terrors of life can crash into adolescence and how innocence, once lost, can never be regained.

About the Author

Christopher Raja

Christopher Raja migrated to Melbourne from Kolkata in 1986, and now lives and works in Melbourne. His short story ‘After the Wreck’ was adapted for radio and broadcast on ABC Radio National in 2007. His play Drew’s Seizure was performed at Araluen Arts Centre, Alice Springs in 2009. His co-authored play The First Garden played over six nights at the Olive Pink Botanic Garden in September 2011 and was published by Currency Press in 2012. The Burning Elephant was written under a New Work grant awarded by the Literature Board of the Australia Council.

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‘The 1984 anti-Sikh genocide’ Pearls and Irritations, May 2024

Launch speech

Extract from speech by Chandani Lokuge, celebrating The Burning Elephant at Eltham Bookshop, Melbourne, Thursday 1 December 2016:

The Burning Elephant is a subtly layered and textured novel, and will appeal to each reader in a different way. It is a protest against a political system; it is a deeply intimate story about a malfunctioning marital relationship; it is about an intelligent and beautiful woman seeking to escape domestic and cultural oppression, and about her husband who loves her and loses her because he does not understand her. More than all this, it tells the story of a child’s rite of passage as, enmeshed in both domestic and national issues that he does not fully understand, he takes the first humanist steps into adolescence. His innocence is captured iridescently by the author. ­ As a reader and as a mother, I wanted to treasure it;­ it is so transient a moment in our lives. The story washes over us whimsically and in gentle waves.