Margaret River Press

'In supple, lucid prose, Portland Jones weaves a talk of doomed war and love under siege.  Seeing the Elephant is a moving meditation on loss and the redemptive power of memory.' (Christine Piper, Winner of the 2014 Australian Vogel Literary Award).

Seeing the Elephant is poignant story of a remarkable relationship between Frank Stevens, an Australian soldier sent to the Vietnamese Highlands to recruit and train the local hill tribes during the Vietnam War, and his Vietnamese translator, Minh.

The story is told through letters from Frank to his grandfather. Seconded by the CIA, Frank has been sent to the Vietnamese Highlands to recruit and train the local mountain tribes to resist the North Vietnamese. Once Frank returns home the letters document his struggle to cope with life in Australia after the war.  

Nearly fifty years later, Minh, now living in Australia and seriously ill, reads through Frank’s letters and remembers the experiences that he shared with Frank, and discovers that even amongst his traumatic memories, there is consolation and joy.

The novel was shortlisted for the 2014 T.A.G. Hungerford Award

Download bookclub notes.

 

Portland Jones is both a writer and a horse trainer!  She has a PhD in literature and runs her own horse-training business. She lives in Perth’s Swan Valley with her partner and three children.

Seeing the Elephant

Portland Jones

'In supple, lucid prose, Portland Jones weaves a talk of doomed war and love under siege.  Seeing the Elephant is a moving meditation on loss and the redemptive power of memory.' (Christine Piper, Winner of the 2014 Australian Vogel Literary Award).

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Publication Year
2016
Edition
1st
Publisher
Margaret River Press
ISBN13
9780994316745
Format
Paperback (B Format)
Category
Fiction
Excerpt
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Reviews & Press

"Portland Jones writes with effortless poise and lyricism that doesn't draw attention to itself. Her male characters, and the stark emotional terrain they traverse, are thoroughly convincing. This is an imaginative, unusual buddy story, written with great sensitivity and style." - Cameron Woodhead for the Sydney Morning Herald. 

"Shortlisted for the 2014 T.A.G. Hungerford Award, Seeing the Elephant is Portland Jones’ debut novel. The complex narrative moves between two time-frames and settings: present day Perth and the mid-1960s in the highlands of Vietnam. Minh, the primary narrator, suffering in his 60s from cancer, is overwhelmed by memories of the past. Frank, an Australian soldier in Vietnam to recruit and train men from the local hill tribes, is the other narrator. A deep friendship between the men develops while the terrible events of the conflict between north and south Vietnam escalate. Political and personal dramas unfold in this compelling novel, which is both tragic and life-affirming." - Writing WA, March 2016.

"One of many strengths in the novel is the representation of Minh. Unfailingly polite as if conscious of ever being a visitor rather than at home in Australia, he articulates the gulf between the well-meaning complacency of those who have always been safe, and those who have experienced the loss of all they cherish ... There comes a point in this exquisite novel when the reader knows how things will be resolved, and reads on with a sense of melancholy. This does not detract from the novel, it enhances it even as one reads through heart-stopping scenes of great peril". - ANZ Lit Lovers LitBlog, April 2016.

"Portland Jones’ debut novel is outstanding. It transports the reader to a Vietnam at the crossroads of history and into the minds and lives of two young men who bore witness to the hope and tragedy. It is a story of war, but more than that, it is a story of families, and of love and loss. Seeing the Elephant is a genuine page-turner and this reviewer highly recommends reading it." - Robert Fairhead for the NSW Writers' Centre.

"Part epistolary novel, part remembrance of things past, the book moves between viewpoints as we read Frank’s letters to his grandfather, and to Minh, and learn of the traumatic events that would have such a devastating effect on their lives long after the last shots were fired. By turns brutal and tender, Seeing the Elephant is an intimate study of how love can flourish in times of war like a vulnerable flower in an otherwise inhospitable landscape." - William Yeoman in the West Australian. 

"In delicate and graceful prose that is so beautiful it almost reads like poetry, Jones describes Frank’s desperate attempt to position himself in an increasingly unhinged world." - Christine Sun for Westerly. 

An interview with Portland Jones by the Wheeler Centre. 

“…Portland Jones’s Seeing the Elephant is a rewarding and poignant read that addresses the themes of war, post-war life, grief, change and friendship.” - Amy Bennett-Simeon for Good Reading Magazine.

"Historically the novel covers events leading up to the official involvement of Australia in the Vietnam conflict, but emotionally it covers even more – the effects of imperialist intervention on local people, loss, survival and the depths of love, in a finely crafted moving whole." - Sally Murphy for Aussie Reviews. 

Watch Writing WA's Cover to Cover with Portland Jones. 

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