The Elephant Keepers' Children

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Overview

Told from the precocious perspective of fourteen-year-old Peter, The Elephant Keepers' Children is about three siblings and how they deal with life alongside their eccentric parents. Peter's father is a vicar, his mother is an artisan, and both are equally and profoundly devout. The family lives on the (fictional) island of Finø, where people of all religious faiths coexist peacefully. Yet, nothing is at it seems.
When Peter's parents suddenly go missing, Peter and his siblings ...

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Overview

Told from the precocious perspective of fourteen-year-old Peter, The Elephant Keepers' Children is about three siblings and how they deal with life alongside their eccentric parents. Peter's father is a vicar, his mother is an artisan, and both are equally and profoundly devout. The family lives on the (fictional) island of Finø, where people of all religious faiths coexist peacefully. Yet, nothing is at it seems.
When Peter's parents suddenly go missing, Peter and his siblings fear the worst—has their parents' relentless quest to boost church attendance finally put them in danger? Told with poignancy and humor, The Elephant Keepers' Children is a fascinating exploration of fundamentalism versus spiritual freedom, the vicissitudes of romantic and familial love, and the triumph of the human spirit.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Readers who expect another taut, chilling literary thriller by the author of Smilla’s Sense of Snow are in for a surprise. A thriller of sorts this is, but it’s more humorous than frightening, more of a caper than a mystery, and more of a coming-of-age story than a suspense yarn. Precocious 14-year-old Peter relates the mysterious events surrounding the disappearance of his parents in a shaggy dog tale full of digressions, adolescent humor, and philosophical musings. Peter’s father is the vicar of the church on tiny Fino island, off the Danish coast; his mother is the church organist and a computer whiz advising the people who are planning a Grand Synod that will bring leaders of every religion, including the pope and the Dalai lama, to Copenhagen. Eccentric in the extreme, the parents have always been mysterious to their children, but when they go missing, Peter and his older siblings, Tilte and Hans, fear that they’re involved in a plot to steal religious relics. The tone throughout is jauntily farcical, including characters Bodil Hippopotamus, Alexander Flounderblood, and Anaflabia Borderrud, whose nomenclature would make Dickens blush. The action is nonstop and zany. A corpse pops in and out of a wheelchair, a castle tunnel is oiled with soft soap, chases end in dead ends, and one dangerous confrontation follows another, all ending in general mayhem. Peter is an engaging narrator; irreverent, insistently confidential, he’s prone to describing metaphysical states in which one can achieve spiritual peace. He calls his parents “elephant keepers” because “they want to know what God really is.” It turns out that nearly all the characters are elephant keepers of one sort or another, in Peter’s estimation. Under the madcap adventure story Hoeg poses serious issues about neglected children, venal church officials, and the paths to intellectual and spiritual freedom. (Oct. 23)
Library Journal
This quirky, philosophical Danish tale concerns two children, 14-year-old Peter and his older and very mature sister, Tilte, who go on the run from the authorities and various other eccentric and fancifully named characters following their parents' mysterious disappearance. The parents work in their hometown church on a fictional island off the coast of Denmark, where miracles may have occurred during the father's sermons; lately, they have become involved with shady business dealings as well. Piecing together clues left behind, the children learn that a major religious conference is scheduled to take place in Copenhagen and that a theft of priceless religious artifacts may be in the works. Peter and Tilte have a precocious philosophical bent, evidently having spent countless hours researching mysticism and spiritual theology, notions of which are sprinkled liberally throughout young Peter's first-person narrative. VERDICT This is an enjoyable and interesting novel, but the appeal may be limited, since it is densely written and requires an effort. Høeg, the author of the brilliant Smilla's Sense of Snow, has adopted a comic voice, and one wonders at times how accurately the translation has preserved his original intentions. [See Prepub Alert, 6/15/12.]—Jim Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
Part comic teenage adventure story, part intellectual debate, the best-selling Danish author's sixth novel is a shaggy-dog story with a unique vision. Featuring quirky names like Leonora Ticklepalate and Sinbad Al-Blablab; precocious, resourceful teenagers racing to save their parents; adolescent romance; and a series of adult-deceiving dodges, Høeg's (The Quiet Girl, 2007, etc.) latest has a definite crossover/young adult flavor. Set on the fictitious Danish island of Finø, it introduces the Finø family: children Hans, Tilte and Peter, and parents pastor Konstantin and his inventor wife, Clara. This couple disappeared once before, having developed some kind of spiritual fraud system involving his sermons and her special effects, but the children have indulged their parents' history of swindling because they are "elephant keepers," containing something bigger than themselves, namely their yearning for God. Now, the two are missing again and Peter and Tilte must go to their rescue. An endless sequence of whimsical episodes ensues as the children give social services the slip, con their way off the island and head toward a Grand Synod of faiths where they suspect their parents are planning an equally grand theft of religious artifacts. Høeg has an endless menu of oddities to stir into his story; whether thriller, fantasy or disquisition on spiritual belief, love and parenting does successfully invent an inexhaustible landscape all its own. This self-indulgent, idiosyncratic and immensely long story will either charm its readers into submission or utterly exhaust their patience.
From the Publisher

“A picaresque tale that probes society’s little hypocrisies while offering an original array of characters. At first glance, an utterly fun, absorbing read.” —Library Journal

"A fount of grandiloquent observations and windy circumlocutions, Høeg conveys the cunning of a middle-aged novelist playing at being a perceptive 14-year-old, and the earnestness of a 14-year-old who seems doomed to a life of writing." —New York Times Sunday Book Review

"Told with poignancy and humor, The Elephant Keepers' Children is a fascinating exploration of fundamentalism versus spiritual freedom, the vicissitudes of romantic and familial love, and the triumph of the human spirit" —Examiner

"It succeeds in being extremely funny while also wrestling with deeper philosophical questions about the role of religion in society and individual choice." —Huffington Post

"This book manages to be both highly entertaining and seriously thought provoking. I must also mention the flawless translation, which allows us to step into the streets of Copenhagen and to enjoy Høeg’s play with words. Peter regales us with tales of his hilarious misdeeds on one page and delves into the true nature of spirituality on the next. I closed this book feeling wiser." —Three Percent

"Thought-provoking and cheerfully absorbing, The Elephant Keepers’ Children is a worthwhile and fun story." —Times Online

"A thriller of sorts this is, but it’s more humorous than frightening, more of a caper than a mystery, and more of a coming-of-age story than a suspense yarn...Under the madcap adventure story Høeg poses serious issues about neglected children, venal church officials, and the paths to intellectual and spiritual freedom." —Publishers Weekly

"Part comic teenage adventure story, part intellectual debate, the best-selling Danish author's sixth novel is a shaggy-dog story with a unique vision...Høeg has an endless menu of oddities to stir into his story; whether thriller, fantasy or disuisition on spiritual belief, love and parenting does successfully invent an inexhaustible landscape all its own" —Kirkus

"This is the novel of the winter to restore your faith in the magic of human experience." —Washington Independent Review of Books

"The lunacy of a spiritually addicted culture motors this soberhearted screwball comedy from the author of Smilla’s Sense of Snow." —International Herald Tribune

"Peter Høeg displays a glorious facility for the absurd as well as the picaresque, and the hilarity of Peter Finø's narrative makes this a delightful novel." —The Guardian

"Bizarre, philosophical (in an Eastern spirituality way), magically real, with more than enough action and twists, this novel is delivered in a unique voice." —Psychology Today

"Høeg is most notable as the author of Simila’s Sense of Snow. You’ll find The Elephant Keepers' Children a less violent, equally mystical novel." —Boston Book Bums

"As soon as I opened to page one, and met fourteen-year-old Peter, I was hooked...It's really a crime thriller, yet filled with mystical characters and a surprising amount of laughs." —Kick Ass Book Reviews

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590514900
  • Publisher: Other Press, LLC
  • Publication date: 10/23/2012
  • Pages: 512
  • Product dimensions: 6.68 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.68 (d)

Read an Excerpt

The Elephant Keepers' Children


By Peter Hoeg

Other Press

Copyright © 2012 Peter Hoeg
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781590514900

It’s not like we have never seen my father cry before. When you’re married to someone like my mother, who very often forgets everything around her, including her husband and her children and her dog, because she has become obsessed by the idea of making her own mechanical wristwatch and works twenty-four hours in one stretch to center the axles of the wheels while we children and our father go hungry—when you’re married to a woman like that you will have need to weep on the shoulders of close friends at least once a fortnight, which Father almost certainly has done in the company of Bent Piglet or John the Savior.
   But he has never done it at home. On such occasions as we have seen Father weep, it has always been in church and on account of him saying something especially beautiful that makes him cry because he is moved and grateful for the Lord having provided Finø with such a magnificent pastor as himself. Or else he cries at a funeral in sympathy with the bereaved, and one must reluctantly admit that Father’s sympathy is almost as great as his satisfaction at putting it on display.
   Though his complacency and sympathy both may be great, they have never been so great as what we now witness in the kitchen of our rectory home. What we see is something that has always been contained inside our father, but which only now is released, and to begin with we have no words for it. But Father leaves the kitchen and Mother goes after him, and Tilte and Hans and Basker and I remain behind and look at each other. We sit for a moment in silence, and then Tilte suddenly says: “They’re elephant keepers. That’s Mother’s and Father’s problem. They’re elephant keepers without knowing.”

Continues...

Excerpted from The Elephant Keepers' Children by Peter Hoeg Copyright © 2012 by Peter Hoeg. Excerpted by permission of Other Press, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Why do you think Høeg chose to have a child narrate this story? In Peter’s perceptions and descriptions, how are the adults different from him and the rest of the children?

2. The title of the book is taken from this Indian proverb: “In case you wish to befriend an elephant keeper, make certain to have room for the elephant.” Discuss the meaning of the proverb and how it relates to the novel’s characters. Do you think the adults in the book are each elephant keepers in his or her own way?

3. In what ways does the novel blur the boundaries between the real and the imagined? What do you think Høeg is trying to say about the nature of reality—and our beliefs about it—through these distortions of reality and seemingly fantastical episodes and characters?

4. Høeg presents a narrative full of anecdotes and diversions. What sort of experience does this create for the reader? Are these really distractions from the plot, or do they build the larger framework of the narrative? If the latter, what does Høeg wish the reader to gain from them?

5. On Finø, many religions co-exist in peace together. Given that the population is capable of overcoming such obstacles as prejudice and religious intolerance, what keeps the island from being a perfect utopia?

6. Peter tells us, “with the island being so small, a lot of people need to be two or three things at once” (page 14). Which characters possess this multifaceted quality, literally and/or psychologically? How do these dynamics influence their standing in Finø?

7. Sex, religion, and freedom are all closely entwined throughout the novel. How are sex and religion blended or distinguished from one another to create freedom, false-freedom, or imprisonment for the characters?

8. Early in the novel, it is revealed that you can enter “the door” at moments of extreme happiness or despair and that love and “the door” are connected. In light of these facts, and the fates of the characters, think about what keeps a person from being free. Why is Tilte the one to find the door?

9. Describe what it means to be an elephant keeper. Can an elephant keeper walk through “the door”?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 13, 2013

    Now easily one of my favorite books

    There are so many facets to this story. The honesty and humor of the narrator. The entertainment of the story and the amxing insights that are carefully placed along the way. I had a tough time getting to the end because I wanted to stay in the story - and then the narrator even walked me through that in the last few pages. I will be reading this many times.

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    Posted November 21, 2012

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