Rumor of an Elephant

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In a Jewish ghetto in an Eastern European city, an eight-year-old boy, the narrator, is given by his father the responsibility of caring for a hawthorn bush. To the father, this plant represents good in the world. The hawthorn bush dies and, out of fear of upsetting his father, the boy, Vimlo Naftali, says that the bush has been trampled by an elephant. This wild story is taken up by the father and the entire community as being true. Hope and the elephant become one, and nothing Vimlo does seems to impede the growing numbers who count themselves among the believers. As a result, the community gains solidarity in the face of the outside forces of Fascism.

Events build upon events and the quiet world of the ghetto is permanently broken. Gerber’s story is painted boldly. The humor is cutting and spares no one. He does not back away from horror, but neither does he leave the reader without hope. His writing is occasionally brilliant, but there are times when the story gets away from him and still others when the reader is simply bored.

This is Alain Gerber’s first book to be translated into English, solidly done by Jeremy Leggatt. RUMOR OF AN ELEPHANT was a best-seller in France and should find a devoted audience here. After all the clanging, screaming, shaking, and killing, life goes on. Vimlo learns to love and believe in an elephant that at first he could not see.