Abandoned in the jungle of the Nepalese Borderlands, two-year-old Nandu is found living under the protective watch of a pack of wild dogs. From his mysterious beginnings, fate delivers him to the King's elephant stable, where he is raised by unlikely parents—the wise head of the stable, Subba-sahib, and Devi Kali, a fierce and affectionate female elephant. When the king's government threatens to close the stable, Nandu, now twelve, searches for a way to save his family and community. A risky plan could be the answer. But to succeed, they'll need a great tusker. The future is in Nandu's hands as he sets out to find a bull elephant and bring him back to the Borderlands. In simple poetic prose, author Eric Dinerstein brings to life Nepal's breathtaking jungle wildlife and rural culture, as seen through the eyes of a young outcast, struggling to find his place in the world.
Dinerstein, a conservation scientist, draws on his Peace Corps experience in the 1970s for his children's book debut, a compelling coming-of-age story. Nandu an 11-year-old Tibetan child found in the Nepalese jungle by Subba-sahib, head of the Thakurdwara elephant stable is raised to be a "mahout" (elephant driver) by his adopted father and the elephant he thinks of as his mother. When the Nepalese king threatens the stable with closure, Subba-sahib sends Nandu to school to learn to operate "in a world that is very different from the one in which I grew up." Nandu attracts wise teachers like Father Autry, a priest and conservationist, and Baba, a holy man, who nurture and guide Nandu. Nandu's experiences with ethnic prejudice (a plea for help lands him in jail: "A Tibetan driving an elephant? Ha"), as well as terrible guilt after he himself kills numerous "marvelous birds," make him attuned to dangers facing wild species, particularly elephants. Through memorable characters, an exquisite natural setting, and Nandu's direct narration, Dinerstein's story reveals the rich diversity and interdependence of human and animal realms. Ages 8 12.