Thursday, December 26, 2013

5 Star Review for 'Bad Elephant Far Stream' by Samuel Hawley Plus Giveaway

Bad Elephant Far Stream is an elephant’s life story, told from her own perspective, through her own eyes. Inspired by the life of a real elephant known as Topsy, it follows Far Stream from her birth and capture in the wild in Ceylon in the late 1860s, through her transportation to America and thirty years with the circus, which ultimately led to her being labeled as “bad.” It’s an unusual and uncompromising novel that explores the questions: What is it like to be an elephant trained for human amusement? What does such a creature think? What does it feel? What does it yearn for? Bad Elephant Far Stream takes the reader on a voyage of discovery to find out.

Samuel Hawley was born and grew up in South Korea, the son of missionary parents. After earning BA and MA degrees in history from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, he returned to East Asia for two decades to teach, first in Japan and then Korea, retiring in 2007 as an associate professor of English at Yonsei University in Seoul. It was in Japan that Hawley started writing for magazines and newspapers on topics ranging from travel and Japanese fashion to sumo wrestling and fishing at downtown tsuribori. By the late 1990s he had turned his attention to books, notably The Imjin War(Institute of East Asian Studies Press, UC Berkeley, 2005), a 700-page account of Japan’s sixteenth-century invasion of Korea and attempted conquest of China. Hawley switched his focus to popular nonfiction after returning to Canada in 2007. His first work in this new vein was Speed Duel: The Inside Story of the Land Speed Record in the Sixties (Firefly, 2010), which received starred reviews in both Publishers Weekly and Library Journal. He followed this with I Just Ran: Percy Williams, World’s Fastest Human (Ronsdale, 2011), named one of the five “Best Sports Books of 2011” by the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). In 2013, Hawley decided to go “indie." He parted ways with his agent and formed his own imprint, Conquistador Press, to publish his first novel, Bad Elephant Far Stream.

Bad Elephant Far Stream (historical fiction) by Samuel Hawley
263 pages
Conquistador Press (November 2013)
$15.95 (paperback); $7.99 (eBook)
ISBN 978-0-9920786-0-7

A Note From the Author

Bad Elephant Far Stream is a work of fiction. A real elephant, however, inspired the story. Her name was Topsy, an Asian elephant, trained to perform in the circus, origins unknown. She had a crooked tail, broken at a young age by hard treatment, reportedly by Adam Forepaugh Jr.; she performed in the Forepaugh Circus for many years as part of the dancing quadrille ; she killed a man named Jesse Blount in 1902 and attacked another named Louis Dondero. And she was euthanized at Coney Island on January 4, 1903, the event immortalized in the Edison film “Electrocution of an Elephant.” You can watch the flickering footage on YouTube. I tried to incorporate as much as I could discover about the real Topsy into this story. Unfortunately, only tantalizing hints exist about her in the historical record prior to her widely publicized killing of Blount. In writing Bad Elephant Far Stream I therefore drew upon the experiences of other elephants as well— Topsy’s contemporaries with other shows— to flesh out the story. Most of the episodes depicted here are therefore largely true. They actually happened—but not necessarily to Topsy. In gathering information, I searched through scores of newspapers of the day, from the Atlanta Constitution and Albany Evening Journal to the Washington Post and Wichita Daily Eagle. I accessed these through Stauffer Library at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario (special thanks to the inter-library loan staff), and through a number of on-line newspaper archives, notably ; the Library of Congress’s http:// and the individual state listings at http:// free-newspaper-archives/ us-state-and-local-newspaper-archives/ . Of these state newspaper archives, the one for New York at deserves special mention. The site is strangely quirky— and massive. A second major source was the Forepaugh Circus route books. These are detailed accounts for each year’s happenings that were published at the end of each season: a list of employees, the line-up of acts , the route taken, a daily journal, miscellaneous articles and snippets— usually a total of more than 100 pages. By far the best collection of these route books is housed in the Parkinson Library at the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin. Circus World Museum Assistant Director Rob Richard kindly provided me with material from the Forepaugh route books for the years 1878, 1880, 1883, 1889, 1891, 1892, 1893, 1894, 1896, 1898, 1900 and 1902. I found the daily journal portion , a major part of each book, to be especially useful . It was here that I read of such events as Topsy’s running in an elephant race as depicted in chapter 13 (she lost her footing and tumbled head over heels on at least two occasions, once in St . Louis , Missouri on May 24, 1893 and again in Marion , Kansas on August 30 of the same year, “turning a complete and artistic somersault”); the train derailment in chapter 14 (derailments and serious accidents occurred almost every season; the one in which the Forepaugh elephant car tumbled down an embankment occurred en route to Bluefield, Virginia on September 25, 1898); the tent blow-down in chapter 17 (Sioux City, Iowa, June 24, 1898); together with numerous other incidents and a wealth of descriptive detail. Third, there is the elephant database at, essential for tracking elephants with nineteenth-century circuses to the extent that information exists. Also noteworthy is second-generation elephant trainer William “Buckles” Woodcock’s circus history website, http:// . I should perhaps mention here that I diverged from the database’s record on Adam Forepaugh’s elephant Romeo, the one whose death is depicted in chapter 5. He was one of several circus elephants at the time named Romeo and thus they are easily confused. The account I found most convincing— that an elephant named “Canda” was brought from Ceylon in 1851 and renamed “Canada” and later “Romeo”— is that forwarded by Stewart Craven, at one time Romeo’s trainer.

Another valuable source of information that went into the writing of this book was the Circus Historical Society’s on-line library at . This website contains listings of every stop in every town for many of the major circuses for most seasons. It also has a virtual library of books and articles written by or concerning old-time circus impresarios , performers and trainers: Richard Conover’s The Great Forepaugh Show, 1864-1894; Stuart Thayer’s 
American Circus Anthology; Charles Day’s book Ink From a Circus Press Agent and weekly column “The Circus in the Days of Old”; W.C. Thompson’s On the Road with a Circus ; Louis Cooke’s weekly newspaper series “Reminiscences of a Showman”; Tony Parker’s On the Road With a Wagon Show and a good deal more.

5 Star Review

I received the book from the author for an honest review.

This book was well researched, well written and compelling. It is gripping, heart felt, and filled with compassion as you read this unique story from the elephant 'Far Stream's point of view. Starting from her capture in 1871, in the forests of India to her death in 1903, you will read about this intelligent creature, subdued to entertain people. She received cruelty at the hands of some spectators and some handlers, not willing to learn from her. Her reluctance to accept any changes, especially when she was older. 
They were always pressured to learn new tricks to entertain the crowds. 
The author gave us a glimpse into the circus world from that period, with its high demands for perfection, pushing the animals to comply to their rules and ways. Always on the road, touring from town to town. With dangerous places, derailed trains and bulls that became mad, placing them all in danger. You learn about their executions, strangulation and many more ways they were kept in control.
What touched me most was her constant longing for a past she could not remember, her heart-break when she realized that her family was gone and the joy when she was once again reunited by her sister. Always craving for freedom, never accepting her captured life, even if she did want to please the people that came in her life. Her different names as she grew into a matriarch of the group, not her flesh and blood but yet taking the role very seriously. 
The abuse that many of her fellow elephants endured, all to tame them, subdue them to fit in a man made world. Each elephant had their own unique character, their own troubles and seeing it from their perspective gives you a new found respect for these giants that walks the earth.
A wonderful historical fiction that I can recommend to all readers.


An eBook copy of Bad Elephant Far Stream.

1 comment:

  1. Her name was Topsy, an Asian elephant. I feel bad for her.
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