Mud is an elephant cow, orphaned at birth and blessed with visionary powers. She and her family roam the plains of African until prolonged drought forces them to stay close to one of the few remaining waterholes. It is there that ivory poachers find them and kill or drive off almost all the cows and their calves. Now a pregnant adolescent, Mud sets out with the wounded and traumatized survivors in search of the Safe Place and The White Bone that can lead them there.

An Ottawa Citizen Top Ten Book of the Year
A Maclean’s Magazine Top Ten Book of the Year
A Bookseller’s Choice Book of the Year
A Scotman’s Book of the Year
A Village Voice Book of the Year
Shortlisted for The Scotia Bank Giller Prize
Shortlisted for The Governor General’s Award for Fiction
Shortlisted for The Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize
A Trillium Book Award Finalist

critical acclaim

“Inspired imagination and research have created a marvel of a book. In The White Bone, the language, social structure, intellectual and spiritual world of elephants are as real as the fabric of human life. Absolutely compelling.”
Alice Munro

“The book is amazingly clear for a novel so complicated. Its theology is profound. And it is a hunt-and-chase story of growing narrative momentum. I was simply swept up in it. I loved it.”
The New York Times, John Irving in a Letter to the Editor

“An extraordinary visceral, sensuous and poetic rendering of language unparalleled in contemporary literature. You need not believe that elephants can think in language—in this case, a highly lyric English—to be enthralled by the author’s imaginative immersion in her subject, a brilliantly inspired melding of research into the lives of African elephants and the creation of a distinctly original, indeed sui generis alternative world. The White Bone is not a casual reading experience. It will linger long in the memory, like an intensely unnerving yet wonderfully strange dream.”
The New York Review of Books, Joyce Carol Oates

The White Bone is a brilliant precursor of the novel of the future—a realization of noble and tragic lives not our own. This sorrowful novel does holy work because it engages us in that holiest of acts—empathy.”
Joy Williams

“A classic quest story that is also a technical feat…. A surprisingly moving, high-stakes work of imagination.”
Amy Hempel

“Monumental. A work of profound empathy and inventiveness, humor, depth and brazen artistic license…. Those who imagine a book similar to Richard Adams’ Watership Down will be not disappointed but enlightened. Rather than personify the elephant, Gowdy has imagined a whole new order of being, its bawdy frankness wed to courtly diplomacy. Once this richly and precisely contextualized book gets underway, the reader feels so comfortable in, yet so fascinated by, the elephant world that the real story becomes that of the individuals whose survivals are at stake. Readers should brace themselves for Gowdy’s artistry, and for her insistence on making no distinction between observable facts and imagined truths. The White Bone is a spectacular achievement.”
The Chicago Tribune

“To call this astonishing novel a tour de force, as critics have done, is to suggest the author’s virtuosity but not her power to terrify and console.”
The Times Literary Supplement, International Books of the Year and the Millenium

“Anyone who believes that animals are sentient beings will be moved and fascinated by Gowdy’s deeply imagined novel. Gowdy does everything right in immersing herself and the reader in the milieu of giant creatures, blessed and cursed with remarkable memories. Her most brilliant achievement is how she ‘elephantizes’ the elephants. She has completely entered their world, and made us suspend disbelief. Her cast of elephants is wonderfully drawn, as are the other animals the elephants encounter on their travels. With its mysterious, mythological overtones, The White Bone is often reminiscent of Native American literature. A tender, tragic, majestic triumph.”
The Hartford Courant

“Engrossing, touching. A captivating fictional venture.”
People Magazine

“From the enormously gifted Gowdy, a mesmerizing journey into the heart of Africa. Warmly conveying a remarkably full vision of elephant life, as well as the almost incomprehensible tragedy of species annihilation, Gowdy has created an astonishingly moving saga.”
Kirkus, starred review

“The marvelously inventive Gowdy here performs her greatest creative feat yet. A.”
Entertainment Weekly

“Brilliant. Gowdy’s elephants are astonishingly embodied. But the novel’s most impressive feat is the baroque edifice of elephant culture that gradually rises up from this foundation…. To present the elephant’s response to times of hardship as a quest narrative is a daring, and successful, stroke.”
The Boston Review of Books

The White Bone takes place in a self-sufficient and brilliantly authentic world….  Impressive and delightful.”
The Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Jelena Petrovic

“Gowdy brilliantly imbues these uncommon characters [elephants] with wrenching emotions…. There’s a warmth in Gowdy’s writing that can only stem from the certainty that there is wondrousness in the most derelict and unexpected circumstances—that life in all forms is awesome.”
The Village Voice

“Remarkable. The conception and execution are brilliant. The novel is both moving and mesmerizing.”
Publishing News

“Gowdy genuinely entrenches us in the elephant psyche. Our perspective is so completely altered that when the hindleggers (humans) appear, a third of the way through the story, they feel as foreign to the reader as they do to the elephants. Gowdy renders the arid African landscape with a subtle gorgeousness reminiscent of Isak Dineson.”
The Boston Globe

“You finish the novel in the same way you finish Gowdy’s other books: charmed, intoxicated by the language, and very disturbed.”
The Independent Weekend Review

“Gowdy’s language is classically understated, yet at times as voluptuous and concentrated as poetry. Some of the most imaginative passages combine physical detail with abstract musings, the elephant’s pragmatism with their spirituality…. It is a mark of Gowdy’s growing power as a writer that, even as she raises her familiar literary pennant in defiance of the forces of darkness on a very different battlefield, she moves the reader afresh. Like all Gowdy’s work, The White Bone has the capacity to arouse not only outrage at human cruelty, but also wonder at the revolutionary power of language to up-end preconceptions. ”
L.A. Weekly

“Gowdy is known for taking risks, for inhabiting the psyches of the offbeat and the unexpected. She has been likened to the photographer Diane Arbus, but comparison to the magnificent Australian writer Peter Carey may be more apt. With each new fiction Gowdy creates and inhabits an uncharted world, one entirely her own.”

“The mysticism and majesty of the African elephant loses no honor in Gowdy’s new novel. This masterfully crafted novel is highly recommended.”
Library Journal, starred review

“Gowdy is a strong and sympathetic writer, capable of conveying real emotion even in the most removed of settings. In this way we can inhabit the world of her heroine. We can momentarily understand, in the wake of an elephant massacre, what it might be like to lose twenty-three members of your family. Moreover, we can glimpse what life might be if we didn’t have imperfect memory.”
The Guardian

“Breathtaking. Gowdy has not only created a wholly plausible imagined world but an entirely new kind of fiction. If this is not Booker Prize material, I don’t know what is.”
Booksellers’ Choice, The Bookseller

“Images in Gowdy’s fiction sear themselves, moving or terrible, maddeningly unforgettable, onto the frontal lobe of the reader’s brain…. The White Bone is a potential reimagining force, a way to re-see the world from the point of view of another species. An end-of–the-world saga, fragile, grave and looming.”
The Scotsman

“Extraordinary. The boldest and the most convincing fictional attempt I have ever encountered to enter the mind-space and culture of another species. It is a book that, like the elephants, I will never forget.”
The Glasgow Sunday Herald

“Gowdy’s compelling power lies in her ability to make the entire fabric of elephant society appear as real as that of our own.”
The London Times

The White Bone first enchants, then seduces. Gowdy has stripped her writing of any metaphor that could be construed as human in order to show the internal world of the elephant: sexual, rampant, sophisticated, philosophical, hilariously funny, mystical, knowledge-hungry, sweet-hearted, and exquisitely mannered.”
Saturday Night Magazine

“Barbara Gowdy triumphs with a pachyderm saga. In The White Bone, she has written a new kind of book. What makes it so powerful and original is the soulful, intelligent complexity of the elephant’s thoughts and feelings. Outwardly, they do nothing that real pachyderms would not do. But inwardly—where Gowdy’s imagination takes over—they are equally convincing as they experience the griefs and joys of elephant life…. The White Bone is the kind of book people can fall in love with.”
Maclean’s Magazine

“Gowdy is one of the country’s most audacious and fascinating writers, and one who has built a literary reputation on her keen, smart explorations of human oddity. Her meticulously crafted sentences and steady, sympathetic gaze don’t sensationalize her subjects as much as aim to humanize those who are usually ostracized by their outlandishness. In this light, The White Bone is really an extension of Gowdy’s ongoing obsessions: an attempt to inhabit difference, writ large…. Comic, apocalyptic, faintly hopeful, The White Bone succeeds as a brave and captivating act of imagination.”
The Globe and Mail

“There are just two words to describe the future of Canadian fiction and they are ‘Barbara Gowdy.’ I say that with complete confidence.”
Hot Type National Book Poll, Zsuzsi Gartner

“An extraordinary achievement, because Gowdy is neither creating a fantasy animal kingdom, in the vein of Watership Down, nor working in that genre of the naturalistic and ever so slightly anthropomorphic animal story. She is doing something in between. Her elephants are real elephants, with all the habits and behaviours noted by zoologists. But they are also articulate creatures who have developed not only a matriarchal society but their own language, mythology and religion. The latter, of course, is Gowdy’s own invention, and a wonderfully sly, evocative and credible one it is. The White Bone is the kind of novel that will arouse much debate, precisely because it is susceptible to different interpretations, and because it is such a powerful work of imagination.”
The Toronto Star

“An oblique and refreshing optic, humour, irony, compassion, a fond regard for the eccentric, an imagination that is rare in its generosity and scope, and above all a commitment to practicing a language that is both precise and musical: these have been the earmarks of Gowdy’s work to date, and they are plentiful in The White Bone. With writing that manages to be both incisive and hallucinogenic and that is born along by a moral vision and a deftly controlled sense of outrage, Gowdy has created a landscape, a cosmology, and a community that are wholly surprising and believable. The White Bone is a singular and remarkable novel.”
Quill & Quire, starred review

“A tour de force, a moving, often striking study of elephants and their (imagined) lives…. A stunning accomplishment.”
The Edmonton Journal

“Barbara Gowdy is too gutsy to stay in one creative place, and that’s why The White Bone is so thrilling…. With this nervy novel Gowdy reinvents compassion…. The writing is riveting, the exercise in earthy awareness is powerfully poetic.”
NOW Magazine

“It is a courageous leap for a writer to depart so radically from the style and milieu for which she has become so well known. Luckily for the reader, Gowdy takes the leap unfalteringly, landing securely and making this new territory definitively her own. No mere animal tale, The White Bone speaks to universal truths, not the least of which is a stunning indictment of man’s cruelty to the other creatures on this planet. Mud, Date Bed, Tall Time, and the flirty She-Snorts will haunt my dreams for a considerable time to come.”
The Ottawa Citizen

“Razor-sharp writing that forces the reader not only into the completely foreign territory of elephant behaviour and the minds of elephants but also into the desert and the heat, and the horror of human greed. Gowdy is a masterful writer no matter what her topic, and the novel has moments that virtually sing.”
The Calgary Herald

“A tour de force in sheer inventiveness. With The White Bone Gowdy has fashioned a powerful and original parable of almost heroic proportions, a complex epic about an intelligent, gentle and emotionally attuned creature now imperiled by human stupidity. As a work of the imagination, it is an impressive and moving achievement.”
The London Free Press

The White Bone is a poignant elegy to elephants, possibly to all animals suffering at the hands of cruel and indifferent humans. But it’s also much more than that. It is a quest narrative, a compassionate and touching story of yearning. It is a magical story of spiritual journey…. A brief plot summary cannot begin to do justice to such an original and intelligent novel.”
The Halifax Sunday Herald

“In Canada in 1999 there was no novel to compare with last year’s The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy.”
The Toronto Star, Philip Marchand

“A tour de force. Gowdy delivers an impressive work in text, in metaphors, in names, which renders this tragic animal tale, this African tale of a ruling exoticism, believable. To open The White Bone is the sure road to a rare novelistic adventure, to a unique reading experience, and to a heady emotion.”
Le Monde

“Gowdy has brought to life an extraordinarily fascinating parallel world.”
Die Welt

“How many serious writers would dare to write from the perspective of an elephant? Barbara Gowdy has done so in spite of the pitfalls. And thank goodness. Because with The White Bone she has not only avoided the dangers, she has written a beautiful, moving and even an important book.”

“Spectacular. Fascinating.”
Koelner Stadt-Anzeiger

“It has to be said, that astonishingly few authors could write a thrilling novel about elephants…. But we now have such a novel, which speaks so naturally and freshly and so passionately about the happiness and sorrow of several families that readers will soon be asking themselves, ‘Why not write more often about elephants?’ Gowdy shows a delicate mastery.”
Der Spiegel, Tilman Spengler

“A fascinating journey into the heart of elephants…. Gowdy creates a particular elephant consciousness with her typical wit and extraordinary empathy.”
Buch Aktuell

“Extraordinary…. Insightful…. One orients soon enough into the space and time of the elephants and accompanies them, fascinated, on their travels. Wonderful…learned.”

“Barbara Gowdy writes thrilling prose with stylistic brilliance. We await with baited breath her next novel.”
Deutschlandfunk Buechermarkt

“Since Flaubert’s Salammbo, there has been no book in the literature of the world so dark, and in its darkness so striking and impressive, as Barbara Gowdy’s novel about the world of elephants. We have here one of the very rare cases in literature, where the reader’s take on the world is forever altered. Whoever closes this book, having read it to the end, is no longer the same person he was before reading…. Gowdy’s novel is neither animal fable nor jungle book, neither reportage nor science fiction. Gowdy has invented an entirely new language to describe the world of the elephants, and for their dialogue…. And suddenly, altogether new connections and interrelationships in the world are spread before us…. Gowdy’s elephants are the descendants of the people in Plato’s Allegory of the Caves….   This book is not about touching animal stories, or even about an endangered matriarchal, vegetarian utopia in the animal world. It is purely and simply about the problem of knowledge of ones self and the world.   It has been a very long time since a novel has appeared that so powerfully drew its readers to reflect on themselves and their world. Naturally, as with Kafka and Durrenmatt, questions remain unanswered. A deeply philosophical book without preaching philosophy, a deeply pessimistic book, which can also be amusing and humorous, a deeply dark book, in which the darkness is breathtakingly beautiful…. One wishes that the story teller would never stop.”
Suddeutsche Zeitung, Michael Winter

“If Elephants could read, they would compliment Barbara Gowdy. It is astonishing how closely the novel approaches our reality.”
Die Zeit

“With no false pathos, Gowdy draws us into this other perspective of reality and creates a world full of mythology and rites. She ‘elephantasizes’ first the book and then her readers so convincingly that the question of believability is simply never posed.”
Hamburger Abendblatt

“A completely new kind of novel for adults. Gowdy succeeds to an impressive extent in creating a new consciousness of the immeasurable intelligence of elephants. With inspired creativity and painstaking research she displays both convincingly and enticingly the world of the elephants, their language, their society…. Fantastical and fascinating, a deeply religious, mythological and also political book, without any ‘mission statement’ and completely free of dogma.”
Buch Journal

“If elephants could read, we would urgently recommend this novel to them.”