Midnight Sun Publishing, Australia, 2021
This is compassionate writing. There is compassion for the two young Australian women whose search for love and self is the framework of the story, compassion for the cruelly misused Thai tourist trade elephants, for the Thai people whose daily lives are shaped by the demands of Western tourists ever in pursuit of exotic entertainment, for the reader lest we find the harsh reality of the results of our wanton search for pleasure too gruelling to face.
Irma Gold has worked as a volunteer on elephant rescue projects and is an ambassador for Thailand’s Save the Elephant Foundation. Her in-country experience is augmented by thorough research for this novel. Her observation of human behaviour is ever astute and non-judgmental.
Two young Australian women, Hannah and Deven, who meet by chance in Chiang Mai, carry this tale, which is at once a love story – human and animal – and an exploration of the ways in which tourism creates demand for activities and products in ways that are not always ethical. The women go together to work on an elephant project, Deven experienced in the life of Thailand and the plight of the elephants, and Hannah, a wide-eyed newcomer with much to learn about life, herself and Thai society.
The experiences of these two as they work in a sanctuary and on an elephant rescue mission serve as a vehicle for the reader to understand that the way the tourism trade has developed has never been in the interests of the elephant. Nor does it seem to carry much lasting benefit to the communities serving it.
The didactic is clear but it is the story that holds our attention, ebbing and flowing through the emotional turmoil and relationship tussles of the two young women. Their equivocal relationship mirrors the ambiguity of the elephant trade.
Irma Gold is a skilled writer, in full control of pace and plot, the growth of her characters and the cultural backdrop of her story. The sensory impact of Thai culture on the Australian or European visitor is never far from our thoughts. An homage to Thailand is embroidered into this, not blindly but with full understanding of the implications of the outsider’s gaze.
The educative purpose in this writing is never allowed to take over the sheer story telling magic which Irma Gold delivers. Here is a tale told with intensity by a writer whose love and control of words is always in evidence. Irma has spent much of her working life as a book editor refining others’ words, and she is acutely aware of the need for economy, for precision, for graphic picture painting and for hooking the reader on every page.
The Breaking does all of this,engaging our hearts and minds, demanding that we question what we may have thought and that we consider a different way of experiencing the culture of ‘the other’.
Thank you to Midnight Sun for the review copy and Irma for such a rich conversation.