I read this book because I read Small Great Things & I appreciated Jodi Picoult wanting to write about racial issues in the U.S. Leaving Time is another novel where the author explores big societal issues. It tackles the issues of grief, man’s inhumanity towards man, and man’s mistreatment of wild, undomesticated animals.
What you should know.
As usual the author’s research is noteworthy. There is talent in educating yourself accurately and thoroughly and then being able to incorporate that knowledge into a story so that it is entertaining instead of lecturing. If that is important to you in your choice of reading you won’t be disappointed here. The book takes place in North America and South Africa. It has characters who narrate first person point of view in the present and also one character who narrates in the past.
What I liked.
This book has much to offer. There is a child protagonist. There is a psychic! There is good old fashioned detective work. There is a missing person. And there are unsolved mysteries with suspects at every turn.
Picoult’s focus on wild and captured elephants is very nicely handled. It’s great reading. Real, grounded storytelling at its best. I saw everything vividly, pictured the animals, their emotions, and the challenging work done by caregivers and researchers alike.
By moving seamlessly between four character POVs the pace remains fresh, only bogging down slightly on occasion when Alice, researching elephant grieving, shares insights about her experiences.
The author makes several strong statements about human behavior that should be studied. You might disagree with some of them. However, without scientific evidence to support one position or the other, who’s to say whether those hinted at by Picoult’s prose or your’s are correct? It will certainly offer up topics for discussion regardless. If only elephants conducted anthropological studies we might learn something useful!
What I didn’t like.
The two main characters are intellectual in the fact they are highly educated. The main protagonist is unabashedly selfish. It could be that this is typical human behavior, and I am perhaps ignorant. But it also could be that I am unwilling to accept such a trait in this story. It does however speak to a larger trend in the novel.
One of the distinct aspects of the story is that the actions of all the humans are described without any moral assessment of them whatsoever. Other than making an effort to help elephants, none of the humans do any good, in my opinion. Everything they do besides help elephants is either harmful to themselves or other people.
So it begs the question. What should the characters learn from the experience? What should the reader conclude from this? The only single explanation given by the author is that humans are less evolved than elephants. Are we to infer then that humans are evolutionarily bereft of the ability to identify and then perform moral acts (except one, trying to right the wrong done to elephants by other humans)?
If the message was that we are best served learning from the behavior of elephants, it was overshadowed by the fact the humans behaved so badly it left no room for debate.