Samuel Hawley’s Bad Elephant Far Stream is the best book I read in 2014. It is a historical fiction based on the life of Topsy the crooked-tailed circus elephant who was electrocuted in 1903 after causing the deaths of three men. This book is filled with interesting circus tidbits and provides insight into what could have driven a highly intelligent and once beloved circus animal to kill three of her trainers.
Topsy and elephant truck. Fairyland Circus, June 20, 1962
Photo Source: www.circushistory.org
Told through the eyes of Far Stream (the fictionalized version of Topsy), this book reveals many harsh realities that likely existed for circus elephants. Taken from her jungle home and separated from family members as a calf, forced to learn tricks and beaten into submission if uncooperative, Far Stream goes through life comforting herself with memories from before she was captured. Hawley seamlessly weaves together Far Stream’s memories, struggles, small victories and relationships with her handlers and other elephants. As a result, this book had me crying (at least a dozen times), laughing, celebrating Far Stream’s victories and welling up with anger at times.
I read a lot of good books this year, even a few others that took me on an emotional roller coaster like this one. So what makes Bad Elephant Far Stream my favorite? First off, when I think about it, I still get teary eyed. Second, this book prompted me to find out more about Topsy and Samuel Hawley. Third, I want everyone to read this book. It doesn’t matter what genre you normally read or if you’re passionate about animals. This book will set your heart on fire.