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Black Elephants: A Memoir Paperback – October 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Karol Nielsen presents a complex love story for our time, one that plumbs the depths of war and terror while exploring the impact of violence on the human psyche and relationships. Black Elephants is forthright, searching, wistful, and full of heart." --Sonya Huber, author of Opa Nobody

"Impeccably researched and luminous in its attention to detail, this memoir is a devastating memorial to peace." --Kaylie Jones, author of Lies My Mother Never Told Me

"In a world that continues to bleed from the wounds of intolerance, here comes a love story with the power to heal." --Michael Soussan, author of Backstabbing for Beginners: My Crash Course in International Diplomacy

New and Noteworthy Book — Poets & Writers

“…poetic…filled with idealism and adventure.” — Kirkus Reviews

“…moving and thought-provoking.” — Christian Science Monitor reader recommendation

“…engrossing.” — Fairfield University Bookstore Inspired Writers Series

About the Author

Karol Nielsen has contributed to Smith Magazine's The Moment anthology and other publications, including the New York Times, New York Newsday, Jane's Intelligence Review, Guernica, Lumina, and Epiphany--before she became nonfiction editor of the magazine. Excerpts from this memoir were selected as Notable Essays in The Best American Essays. Her poetry collection was a finalist for the Colorado Prize for Poetry. She teaches memoir writing at New York University.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Bison Books (October 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803235372
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803235373
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.6 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,497,347 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

KAROL NIELSEN is the author of the memoir, Black Elephants (Bison Books, 2011), selected as a New and Noteworthy Book by Poets & Writers in 2011 and shortlisted for the nonfiction William Saroyan International Prize for Writing by the Stanford University Libraries in 2012. Excerpts were honored as Notable Essays in The Best American Essays in 2010 and 2005, guest edited by Christopher Hitchens and Susan Orlean.

Her poetry collection, This Woman I Thought I'd Be (Finishing Line Press, 2012), includes poems from her full collection, selected as a finalist for the Colorado Prize for Poetry in 2007. Her work has appeared in Ink Stained (Ink Stained Press, 2013), a Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism anthology, and The Moment (Harper Perennial, 2012), an anthology edited by Smith Magazine.

She has served as senior, nonfiction, and now contributing editor of Epiphany, an independent literary magazine, originally affiliated with New York University. Work published in Epiphany has been honored by The Best American Essays, The Best American Short Stories, The Best of the Web, The National Book Award, The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, and others.

A full-time journalist for 15 years, she contributed to Jane's and Thomson Reuters' magazines as a staff writer and editor, New York Newsday and the Stamford Advocate op-ed page as a freelance writer, the New York Times as a stringer, and others. Her memoir and poetry have appeared in Epiphany, Guernica, Lumina, North Dakota Quarterly, Old Red Kimono, Permafrost, Smith, and elsewhere.

She has an M.S. from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in international relations and economics with a minor in French from the University of Pennsylvania, where she contributed to the Penn World Review. She is a freelance writer and editor who has taught creative writing workshops at New York University and the Gotham Writers' Workshop.

PRAISE FOR BLACK ELEPHANTS


Shortlist -- William Saroyan International Prize for Writing, 2012

*

New and Noteworthy Book -- Poets & Writers, 2011

*

Excerpts selected as Notable Essays -- The Best American Essays 2010 and 2005

*

"...poetic...filled with idealism and adventure." -- Kirkus Reviews

*

"...moving and thought-provoking." -- Betty Shays, Christian Science Monitor

*

"...engrossing." -- Inspired Writers Series, Fairfield University Bookstore

*

"Karol Nielsen presents a complex love story for our time, one that plumbs the depths of war and terror while exploring the impact of violence on the human psyche and relationships. Black Elephants is forthright, searching, wistful, and full of heart." -- Sonya Huber, author of Opa Nobody, Stanford University William Saroyan International Prize for Writing finalist

*

"Impeccably researched and luminous in its attention to detail, this memoir is a devastating memorial to peace." -- Kaylie Jones, author of Lies My Mother Never Told Me, Vogue season's best memoirs

*

"In a world that continues to bleed from the wounds of intolerance, here comes a love story with the power to heal." -- Michael Soussan, author of Backstabbing for Beginners: My Crash Course in International Diplomacy, Wall Street Journal standout selection

*

"From the keen, algid air of the Andes, to the rain of Scuds falling on Israel during the first Gulf War and the bustling pressures of New York, Karol Nielsen's Black Elephants is a spare, harrowing memoir." -- Gregory Crouch, author of Enduring Patagonia, Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection

*

"You will be moved." -- Mary Tabor, author of (Re)Making Love

*

"She's the real deal." -- Elizabeth Eslami, author of Bone Worship

*

"I very much enjoyed your story, your crisp, spare prose pulling me into the international narrative of love." -- Cullen Thomas, author of Brother One Cell, bestseller

*

"Reading Karol Nielsen's words is like talking to a friend, a very well-traveled, generous-hearted and deeply reflective friend." -- Anna Kushner, translator of Guillermo Rosales's The Halfway House, Goncalo M. Tavares's Jerusalem, and other works

*

"As an adventurer this book left me nostalgic, for the risks we take in the name of soul-inspired impulse, and how we not only would take those risks again but dream to later transcend them to the universal, to art, as Nielsen has done here. " -- Hafeez Lakhani, PEN USA Emerging Voices Fellow

*

"...a piece of true contemporary literature." -- John Maciuika, author of Before the Bauhaus

*

"...vivid." -- Chris Lombardi, author of the forthcoming, I Ain't Marchin' Anymore

*

"The writer reveals her inner most feelings on love, marriage, family, the loss of friends, and religion." -- Joe Tully, essayist

*

"...a clear, thoughtful voice addressing heartache and war without sentimentality. Cerebral, vivid." -- Meera Lee Sethi, essayist

*

"She did us the great favor and compliment of letting us figure it out for ourselves...The result is a much more powerful message." -- Eulalie, Amazon reader

*

"...an amazing, riveting tale!" -- Sharon F., Amazon reader

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Gregory Crouch on September 15, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
From the keen, algid air of the Andes, to the rain of scuds falling on Israel during the first Gulf War and the bustling pressures of New York, Karol Nielsen's Black Elephants is a spare, harrowing memoir that traces the genesis and disintegration of romance, love, and marriage.

Nielsen's prose comes like direct fire artillery, steel on target with nary a wasted word, and it leads us through a fascinating exploration of the perils of cross-cultural relationships, the lethal impact of repressed memories, events, and emotions, and the tragedy of fading connection - all of them creeping killers in her story. In a sealed Haifa room waiting for Saddam Hussein's Scud missiles to fall, fearful of the chemical horrors the Scuds might contain, Nielsen describes herself, Aviv, and Aviv's parents wearing awkward, ugly, ungainly gas masks, unable to communicate coherently, and being like "black elephants, stripped of our humanity, trapped like wild game," and the image grows into the story's central metaphor as Nielsen's relationship devolves into a grinding Verdun of gradual isolation and recrimination, the two lovers withdrawn into armored shells. We feel Nielsen's frustration and pain as her marriage attrits to extinction, an uncounted, forgotten casualty of war, one of the last of a brutal century.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Sharon F, on September 9, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I cover-to-covered Black Elephants in two days. It was an amazing, riveting tale! Gas masks and bomb shelters aren't a reality in our sheltered culture. It was not only moving, but also just a great story to read.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Eulalie on September 7, 2011
Format: Paperback
Black Elephants is such a refreshing type of memoir; I just love the way the author had a great story, but she told it without telling us how to think about what she said. She did us the great favor and compliment of letting us figure it out for ourselves. I like the simple, fast moving, straightforward style, and that keeps the boatload of history she feeds us really interesting. Her family and other people descriptions are superbly authentic without personal judgements. Another thing, some writers will hit you over the head with their personal message, beat a dead horse, really, but they lose your sympathy doing that. This memoir doesn't--blessed relief! The result is a much more powerful message.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Joseph Tully on October 3, 2011
Format: Paperback
I loved this memoir. It takes you from a back-packing adventure in South America to life in Israel during the Gulf War and the frightening and anxiety-filled experience that it became. In addition to the almost daily wail of air raid sirens and threat of chemical warfare was the challenge of learning a difficult language, living in a new and different culture, and life on a kibbutz... challenging territory for someone who isn't Jewish. The writer reveals her inner most feelings on love, marriage, family, the loss of friends, and religion. It's a portrait of an admirable and courageous person.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mary L. Tabor on December 8, 2011
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Karol Nielsen has written a memoir that is a searing love story and a revelatory--by that I mean from the inside of her heart to yours--series of deeply linked reflections on what it is to be Israeli and what it is to try to understand this country and the daily life of its citizens. Nielsen is not from Israel but she fell in love with an Israeli man, Aviv. She lived in Israel with him and his family. The title's "black elephant" as metaphor becomes increasingly layered as her story unfolds. But know this: the gas masks that Israelis regularly don is the literal source of the image that will resonate after you close the last page.

The beauty of her writing will stay with you as well: "An image came into focus: Aviv and me and our two children, a boy and a girl. Close in age, one with lemon hair like Sarah's [Aviv's mother] and another with chestnut hair like Aviv's. All four of us sitting there, among the crimson anemones and boulders and spiky grass, nibbling peeled prickly pears, listening to Aviv tell stories about his life as a sabra. It would be a good life, I thought."

I do hope you will read this memoir. You will be changed by it. You will understand more of love and its challenges and, perhaps even more profoundly, the crisis that continues in the Middle East.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By MarxSister on January 29, 2012
Format: Paperback
On its face, the story of this enthralling memoir is a devastating one - a young couple caught in the midst of the First Gulf War and the toll it takes on them and their relationship. But 'Black Elephants' is told with such warmth and grace and yes, humor, that it transcends the violence of its setting. This is a book filled with beauty, illuminating a very specific time and place, both of which have been overwhelmed by more recent history. Ms Nielsen writes with the precision and clear-sightedness of the journalist, but also the voice of the poet. Above all, she comes across as a friend, someone unsparing of herself and her story, while also thoughtful and generous. This book is at once tough and tender, and never less than completely true.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By LESLIE ALEXANDRIA on May 3, 2012
Format: Paperback
Thank you, Karol Nielsen, for such a moving and intimate view of your life and the world around you during those times documented in your book. The straight-forward writing does not manipulate emotions and allows the reader to ponder over the powerful events and experiences, well after the book has been read. What hard work it must have been to so beautifully and clearly capture all that Nielsen did, but clearly a labor of love in so many regards. Such a worth-while read!
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