Just finished reading this amazing book. Anyone who is fascinated with elephants or the Vietnam War or who would just like a peek into the life of one eleven year old Vietnam native during the war should read this book. It is insightful and suspenseful. Richie's picks http://richiespicks.pbworks.com/A-MILLION-SHADES-OF-GRAY , quoted below tells enough to pique your interest
"Mother, mother, mother
There's too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There's far too many of you dying
You know we've got to find a way
To bring some lovin' here today"
-- Vietnam War era song by Marvin Gaye
"He lay on his back as the first mtu appeared in the sky, sparkling shyly. The war was coming just like the mtu came, barely sparkling at first and then glowing stronger and stronger. And then as darkness came, all you could see were the mtu. He listened to the leaves in the jungle rustling with the wind. He loved the sound suddenly. He loved the wind on his face. He loved lying on the ground quietly. Tomas, Y'Siu, and Y'Tin liked to lie on the ground near the elephants because it felt risky but also comforting. The elephants could step on them -- but they wouldn't. That was elephants for you."
And so it is, that upon reading A MILLION SHADES OF GRAY, a hauntingly brutal piece of historical fiction set in Vietnam in the mid-Seventies, it is not only the slaughter of hundreds of mountain tribal people that leaves me aching. It is, even more so, the unknown fate of the three elephants that we come to know so intimately -- along with their three young keepers -- that has me sitting here wondering what else I could/should be doing to belatedly help mitigate the damage, if it is not already far too late.
You tell me what kind of half-assed, second-rate planet this will be when elephants and rhinoceroses, whales and polar bears, lions and snow leopards, have all gone the way of the dinosaurs?
When we first meet him, Y'Tin is eleven, hoping to become the youngest elephant trainer that his isolated mountain tribe has ever had. It is 1973 and his people do not yet know it, but the Americans are on the verge of signing the Paris Accords and leaving. This is a problem for the tribe because Y'Tin's father is among a number of men there to have repeatedly undertaken military-related missions for the Americans. In the long run, once the Americans are gone and the North inexorably moves south, there will be a deadly price to pay. After the opening chapters, the story moves to 1975, when that price is on the verge of being exacted and Y'Ting has achieved his dream.
"We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate"
Y'Tin ends up moving back and forth between bearing witness to and barely escaping the atrocities that come to pass, and being on the run in the jungle with the other two boys while training and caring for Lady, the elephant out of the domesticated trio with whom he has been entrusted.
I am happy that the story ends with boy and the elephant both still alive. But that is of small comfort as I search sites for information on Asian elephants. Some estimate that in 1900 there were more than a million Asian elephants in the wild. That number is now down below 40,000, including a few dozen left in the wild in Vietnam.
"Y'Tin ran right toward Lady. When Lady spotted him, she trotted over, picked him up with her trunk, threw him to the ground, and bonked him on the head. Then her trunk swayed back and forth the way it did when she was happy."
A MILLION SHADES OF GRAY is an important tale in its telling the little-known story of the Montagnard tribal people amidst the Vietnam War (which, there, was called the American War). But what will stay with me is the story of the boy who is justifiably filled with pride and joy for his having the uncanny ability to communicate with and to be as one with such a beautiful and powerful creature, without the need for employing force or punishment.