Everyone loves a story about a boy and his dog, especially if that dog is eight feet tall and some five thousand-odd pounds. And has a trunk. And tusks.
Modoc is the true(ish) story of one busy elephant and her boy, born on the same day in a circus in England. When the circus is sold to a rich American, Bram (the boy) stows away on the ship to be with the elephant he loves. The ship goes down in a hurricane, but some two dozen people are saved by clinging to Modoc’s flanks (apparently elephants float more than swim. Who knew?). Washed ashore in India, Bram takes Modoc into ‘hiding’ so that her new owners will assume she’s dead. They have many adventures, including a Hannibal-esque mountain crossing, a trip to America, a misplacing (how do you lose an elephant?), and *spoiler* a tearful reunion. This is one hell of a story, folks.
And true, Helfer’s prose is a little over-poetic, and sometimes it sounds like it’s been Babel-fished from English to Hungarian and back to English again, and he’s got a bit of a heavy hand with the superlatives, and Bram and his successive wives and everyone good is painted with saint paint (Bram will often be plagued with guilt over certain situations, and Helfer will go to great lengths to prove that Bram had done everything he could, often when he had no obligation to do anything at all, but he is so noble that he still feels like he should have done more) and everyone who is bad is unrelentingly bad, and there is loads of unnecessary dialogue that just seems to be there because Helfer felt like someone should be talking, and yes, I was a little miffed to find out that Helfer’s also written a book called Zamba: The True Story of the Greatest Lion that Ever Lived, like, how many of the greatest animals that ever lived does this guy know? But this is a true story, folks, and it’s got the requisite glossies in the middle to prove it.
Helfer kind of pushed me to the edge, but I will forgive a writer much bad writing if his story is both interesting and true. I’m a sucker like that.