Book Review: The Magician’s Elephant


This is one of my favorite books. The way this book is written is so poetic and beautiful. The story is compelling and beautiful. Can you tell that I think this book is beautifully written?

The audacity of the words, their dizzying promise, made it difficult, suddenly, for him to breathe.

This quote from the book perfectly describes how I feel about the book. The story has a metaphorical quality that brings promise to my life and catches my breath as I read. The book asks its characters and readers alike:

What if? Why not? Could it be? sang the glowing, wondering heart of Leo Matienne. What if? Why not? Could it be?

In asking these questions, and in journeying with the characters that are also asking or avoiding these questions makes the book all that much more personal. If you stop between the paragraphs, instead of plunging ahead to determine what is going to happen to the poor orphan Peter, the book becomes bigger than itself. The wonderings of Peter stop filling you with pity for his situation of living with a crazy old soldier, malnourished and alone in the world. Instead I found myself wondering for all those around me, and for myself. I found myself rejoicing and grateful and also nervous as I walked in his shoes and applied the lessons to the refugee situation here in Lebanon, to my own life as a stay at home mom, as a Christian. The book, for me, was a way to process a great many ideas and thoughts and concerns in a constructive way.

What was it like, Peter wondered, to have someone who knew you would always return and who welcomed you with open arms?

Conversely, what is it like to have that thought? I am loved and know that Louis will always return and welcome me with open arms. Also, my children, my family, and many others show me that welcoming love repeatedly. Yet I am surrounded in this small world with people who do not have that and do not know that they could.

The skies were filled with thick, lowering clouds that obscured the sun and condemned the city to a series of days that resembled nothing so much as a single, unending dusk. It was unimaginably, unbelievably cold.

Darkness prevailed.

I hope that when you read it can enter your soul the way this book has for me. I hope that books can bring to life in words the emotions that are hard to explain. I hope that you are able to find light in the darkness. For me, I see God in these pages, the way he works in His Sovereignty and how others see the world alongside me. The themes in this book are its glory, rather than solely the tale of an orphan seeking hope.

“Please,” said Hans Ickman. He opened his eyes, “It is important that you say what you mean to say. Time is too short. You must speak words that matter.”

I love typing and writing. It is calming and it helps me to think. I struggle with putting things into words most of the time, however, and while honored that I receive compliments on my blog, I know there are other people who write with much more elegance, poise, and eloquence. What I do know is that people know me when they read what I write. I am honest and open and vulnerable. It is my strength (and sometimes a curse) that I can bare my soul so easily, shed the masks that others hold so dear. I believe that time is short. I believe that there are words to say, words that matter. And while I know that I might have a great deal of verbosity that could be left unsaid, somewhere inside is something of value and meaning, and my blog is a way to work it out.

Looking out over the city, Peter decided that it was a terrible and complicated thing to hope, and that it might be easier, instead, to despair.

That line is how I have felt much of my life. So I write this review, strange and disjointed, sharing some pieces of a book that means far more to me than I would like to share. But as I am exiting the darkness that has prevailed on my emotions and thoughts and life in the last year, I must put down on paper (screen) what I find to be hopeful. Perhaps someone else can find hope there as well. It is far easier to despair, to throw up my hands and scream, to give in to the endlessness, but in reality, there is hope. Hope hurts, and it is messy, but that pain proves the love there is to give and receive.

“I do not see,” said the countess. “And you will not make me see.”

“Yes,” said her husband, “I suppose that much is true.”

Yes, that much is true. I cannot make you see what I see. Which is the other reason I am using the book itself to tell you what I found appealing in my fourth read of this book. Yes, I love this book so much that I have read it multiple times.

I cannot visualize things in my head well. This book brings the words into pictures and light and color and emotion and power in my head. It speaks of the worth of having a name, that God has a name for all of His creatures He has created. And as names are forgotten or remembered so shifts the lives of those creatures. The book shares about the changing of a season, the seemingly eternal waiting for the next season, that time when everything remains the same weary season for far too long. Transitions and longing and just wanting something, anything to happen because of the exhaustion found with waiting. Finally, the magic of love and family and relationship and being truly known. When I read this book I feel that hope spring alive of all the friendships that I have wherein I am truly seen, truly known, truly understood, and truly loved.

This book is worth a good read and good cry and a good laugh. When you finish reading it I hope you feel lighter and also more solid and real.


The facts about the book.

Title: The Magician’s Elephant

Author: Kate DiCamillo

Illustrator: Yoko Tanaka

Place: The City of Baltese

Publisher: Candlewick Press: Somerville, Massachusetts

Publication Date: 2009

# Pages: 202

Special Features: Fiction, Children’s Book,

Price: $5.50 on Kindle, and as low as $1.69 with real book smell, or paperback

ISBN: 978-0763680886

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Author: Annie Liss

Currently a mother and a wife who loves reading. Formerly a middle school math teacher who kept too busy and stressed out to read. My husband and I are missionaries in Lebanon.

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