The Breaking by Irma Gold

‘I guess we’re all running, in a way…’

Hannah Bird lost her job as a receptionist and fled to Thailand. She figures that her money will last longer there. In the lobby of the hostel where she is staying, she meets Deven, another Australian, working as a teacher. Deven has a passion for saving elephants and convinces Hannah to join her on an official project to save enslaved elephants. Deven and Hannah work as part of a team feeding and cleaning up after the rescued elephants. It is hot, hard work in the tropical humidity. Privileged westerners, well-intentioned but with a limited understanding of the world they have chosen to visit, imposing their values on others. The official project does not go far enough for them and Deven and Hannah, full of youthful idealism, embark on their own unofficial rescue mission with disastrous consequences.

Two idealistic young women, trying to find their own place in a world full of inequality, establishing their own relationship. Two young women, trying to do what they think is ‘right’ without being fully aware of the possible consequences of their actions.

I am still thinking about some of the issues Ms Gold raises in this novel: the role of elephants in Thailand, their use (and exploitation), and the role of tourists who often want to see the elephants perform. Tourism is important to the local economy, as is the other work that elephants are involved in. Tourists may decry the exploitation of elephants, but they are often reinforcing it.

I finished this novel, wondering what the future might hold for Thai elephants and how customary practice and economic factors impact on their lives. I finished the novel wondering, as well, about the hypocrisy of westerners who take their own use of resources (including animals) for granted but would impose a different standard on others. Sigh. And I wondered where Hannah and Deven might be in ten years’ time, and what their views would be then.

A thought-provoking debut novel. Highly recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith