When Elephants Fight by Majok Tulba
In the South Sudanese village of Pacong, Juba is young and old at the same time. Forced to grow up quickly in the civil war, he is nonetheless fun-loving as well as smart. But his little world cannot deflect the conflict raging around it and soon he must flee the life he loves.
Ahead lies a long trek to a refugee camp, a journey arduous and fraught. When at last it ends, Juba comes to wonder if there’s any such thing as safe haven in his country. Yet life in the camp is not all bad. There can be intense joy amid the deprivation, there are angels as well as demons.
Poised part way between heaven and hell, When Elephants Fight draws a horrifying picture of what humanity can do to itself, but Juba’s is a story of transcendence and resilience, even exultation.
Majok Tulba’s debut novel, Beneath the Darkening Sky, was shortlisted for the Dylan Thomas Prize and likened to the work of Nam Le, Markus Zusak and Primo Levi. No less brilliant, When Elephants Fight is an important testimony of the harrowing lives of refugees.
The relevance of this book is undeniable. Novels can take us places we only hear about filtered through the hazy gauze of political intent. They can counter the lazy or pernicious cliches of interest groups. They are a welcome antidote to the poison of fear. Please do come and hear Majok Tulba talk about his writing, and his experience, and his hopes for his new life in Australia.