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The Elephant Keepers' Children Paperback – May 21, 2013

3.7 out of 5 stars 55 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“A picaresque tale that probes society’s little hypocrisies while offering an original array of characters. At first glance, an utterly fun, absorbing read.” —Library Journal

"A fount of grandiloquent observations and windy circumlocutions, Høeg conveys the cunning of a middle-aged novelist playing at being a perceptive 14-year-old, and the earnestness of a 14-year-old who seems doomed to a life of writing." —New York Times Sunday Book Review

"Told with poignancy and humor, The Elephant Keepers' Children is a fascinating exploration of fundamentalism versus spiritual freedom, the vicissitudes of romantic and familial love, and the triumph of the human spirit" —Examiner

"It succeeds in being extremely funny while also wrestling with deeper philosophical questions about the role of religion in society and individual choice." —Huffington Post

"This book manages to be both highly entertaining and seriously thought provoking. I must also mention the flawless translation, which allows us to step into the streets of Copenhagen and to enjoy Høeg’s play with words. Peter regales us with tales of his hilarious misdeeds on one page and delves into the true nature of spirituality on the next. I closed this book feeling wiser." —Three Percent

"Thought-provoking and cheerfully absorbing, The Elephant Keepers’ Children is a worthwhile and fun story." —Times Online

"A thriller of sorts this is, but it’s more humorous than frightening, more of a caper than a mystery, and more of a coming-of-age story than a suspense yarn...Under the madcap adventure story Høeg poses serious issues about neglected children, venal church officials, and the paths to intellectual and spiritual freedom." —Publishers Weekly

"Part comic teenage adventure story, part intellectual debate, the best-selling Danish author's sixth novel is a shaggy-dog story with a unique vision...Høeg has an endless menu of oddities to stir into his story; whether thriller, fantasy or disuisition on spiritual belief, love and parenting does successfully invent an inexhaustible landscape all its own" —Kirkus

"This is the novel of the winter to restore your faith in the magic of human experience." —Washington Independent Review of Books

"The lunacy of a spiritually addicted culture motors this soberhearted screwball comedy from the author of Smilla’s Sense of Snow." —International Herald Tribune

"Peter Høeg displays a glorious facility for the absurd as well as the picaresque, and the hilarity of Peter Finø's narrative makes this a delightful novel." —The Guardian

"Bizarre, philosophical (in an Eastern spirituality way), magically real, with more than enough action and twists, this novel is delivered in a unique voice." —Psychology Today

"Høeg is most notable as the author of Simila’s Sense of Snow. You’ll find The Elephant Keepers' Children a less violent, equally mystical novel." —Boston Book Bums

"As soon as I opened to page one, and met fourteen-year-old Peter, I was hooked...It's really a crime thriller, yet filled with mystical characters and a surprising amount of laughs." —Kick Ass Book Reviews

About the Author

Peter Høeg was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. Before becoming a writer, he worked variously as a sailor, ballet dancer, and actor. He published his first novel, A History of Danish Dreams (1988), to positive reviews. However, it was Smilla’s Sense of Snow (1992), a million-copy best seller, that earned Høeg immediate and international literary celebrity. His books have been published in more than thirty countries.

Martin Aitken holds a PhD in linguistics and gave up university tenure to translate literature. Novels in his translation have been published on both sides of the Atlantic, and his translations of Danish short stories and poetry have appeared in The Literary Review, AGNI, Boston Review, and A Public Space, among other publications. He lives in rural Denmark.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press; Reprint edition (May 21, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590516354
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590516355
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (55 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,064,126 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Kindle Edition
Danish writer Peter Høeg is best known for his third novel "Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow", partly because it was made into one of the more beautiful movie adaptations of modern fiction. While his latest book, "The Elephant Keepers' Children" is unlikely to change that association, it is a magical, story told through the eyes of the charmingly precocious fourteen year old Peter, full of farcical events, zany chases and brilliantly named characters. If you are looking for a gritty, realistic novel, this won't fit the bill, but for all its madcap events, Høeg continues his arch view of events and has surprising depth in the form of philosophical consideration of religions and faith.

In many ways, it's a very different style of book to "Miss Smilla" but it retains elements of the same charm and playfulness without the more moody, lyrical style. It's almost compulsory for Scandinavian writers to feature some kind of crime solving element to their books it seems (at least those that get translated into English) and while "The Elephant Keepers' Children" isn't your typical "Inspector Norse" story, it has at its warm heart a crime that young Peter and his siblings, the feisty Tilte and the older Hans, together with Peter's faithful dog, set out to prevent, not least as it appears that their parents are the likely perpetrators fo the crime.

Despite what you might expect from the title, Peter's parents are not zoological guardians of any kind. His father is a church minister on the fictitious Danish island of Finø, where he is accompanied on the organ by his wife, whose prodigious electronic and engineering skills have also helped her partner her husband in the faking of miracles that got them into trouble with the authorities before.
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Format: Hardcover
Danish author Peter Hoeg's latest novel is a farcical, picaresque story of chase and escapes in which the fourteen-year-old main character (named Peter, in typically Hoeg fashion), along with his sixteen-year-old sister Tilde and terrier dog Basker, must find their missing parents or remanded to a children's home. The novel also has a philosophical component, however, this one dealing with the search for faith and meaning through an exploration of life, love, and happiness - be it through Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or Judaism. Their father is the pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark on the island of Fino, where they all live, and their mother, the organist, is a mechanical genius with a gift for invention.

Along the way, they are aided or hindered by a wild assortment of characters with names reflecting the oddity of life on Fino, the island where they live: Bodil Hippopotamus, the municipal director of the community; Anaflabia Borderrud, the Bishop of Grena; and Leonora Ticklepalate, the head nun of a Buddhist community, computer genius, and counselor in a program that offers sexual-cultural coaching. Polly Pigonia heads the Hindu community and runs the main branch of Fino Bank, while Sinbad Al-Babblab is the imam of the Muslim community.

All these characters are scheduled to gather in Copenhagen, where a religious synod is being held as a way to bring peace among the various religions. The synod will also involve a valuable display of religious artifacts, including jewel-encrusted crucifixes. Four "floaters," three men and one woman, may be terrorists planning havoc at the synod - unless they are stopped - and the issue of guns and explosives and who has them lurks as a threat.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Our hero is 14 and has a quirky view of life which he shares liberally. He has a sister who is capable of reducing adults to stammering and a brother of mythic strength. The story takes place on a small island off Denmark. The plot is a desperate plan to save their parents. But on the way, we are given a number of pearls.
My favorite pearl is the presence of the door that releases you. It appears just before perfect happiness or great grief. And in the middle of ridiculous escapades, we may stop and listen to the presence of the door.
The prose is satiric and quite funny. Observations on fellow humans are unexpected and astute.
We are taken to the world of elephant keepers, people with an elephant of longing, and their children. It is a different kind of book and one worth taking in.
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Format: Kindle Edition
This story is vastly different in style and tone from "Smilla's Sense of Snow." Yet, while "The Elephant Keepers' Children" is not as dark, it maintains the same sense of a child's honesty, loyalty, and resilience. Peter, the narrator and his siblings, Hans and Tilte are unlike any young people you're apt to meet. If you do, you want to be on their side because they are remarkable in thwarting any adult who stands in their way. Add their dog, Basker who gets character treatment. Peter and Tilte read realistically when juxtaposed with their parents. Father, the pastor and Mother, the church organist are complicated combinations of larceny and innocence. In a case of role reversal, the children are looking for these wayward parents, who have disappeared. On their trail are a bunch of nefarious characters that include church officials, the town's schoolteacher, and a psychiatrist. The two cops are looking for the pair, too, but they're the good guys. Hoeg's flow of words and phrasing, and the laugh-out-loud passages keep the story from collapsing into farce. And, kudos to Martin Aitken, the translator, who brings the story home to English-speakers with recognizable plays on names, places, and personalities. Each character is a separate treasure. A standout is Peter's description of Svend Sewerman (self-elevated to nobility and self-named, Charles de Fino). Because of its connection to "the Elephant," religion, and its often contradictory relationship to ethics, has an important place in the story. Hoag's gives equal weight to all religions in his innovative treatment of our universal quest to be near God.
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