"All stories are true. Some stories happened." This is how I intended to begin this review. As I read Elephant Girl, from the initial gut-wrenching description of elephant training to the enigmatic conclusion, I kept reminding myself that even though this story sounded for all the world like memoir, it was really fiction: fiction with a political agenda to show the enduring evils of child abuse compounded by governmental insanity and other quasi-support systems that have safety-net holes large enough for 747s to fly through.
No one life is big enough to have endured this much trauma, I told myself, mostly to remain consistent with the genre description I thought I'd read. This much truth requires fiction to credibly tell in such concentrated form, I reasoned. Then I clicked over to author Jane Devin's website and was stunned to discover that the book reads like a memoir because it is, in fact, a memoir. Apparently one life IS big enough to have endured so much trauma and live to tell the tale.
Elephant Girl is a tale of hard truth. It's a tale of violence on many levels—physical, sexual, emotional, and betrayal at nearly every turn. The overriding metaphor of the elephant training process is an apt one, uniquely suited to Devin's life experience that so closely parallels that of the elephant trainee. In multiple ways Devin's body betrays her and begins to resemble that of an elephant. At the same time, this is a tale of enduring human spirit, determined to beat the odds, that triumphs in a surprising way.
This story is true and did happen. It is worth reading for the inspiration of Devin's amazing thought processes, and especially for those who may need a reminder that our very broken support systems need so badly to be fixed. It has certainly moved me to look for more ways I can make a difference in helping to bring about needed reforms. I urge others to read this tough story, consider the same question, and act on your answers. If enough of us ask and act, change must occur. That is the power of Story. I thank Jane Devin for having the courage to share hers.
Jane Devin is an essayist and author currently residing living in Tucson, AZ. Her work has appeared in literary magazines and the Huffington Post. Between 2009 and 2010, she was on a yearlong road trip, which she blogged at Finding My America. Elephant Girl: A Human Story is her first book. Visit her website.
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