Seeing the Elephant
‘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).
About the Book
Seeing the Elephant is the 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
Reviews and Press
‘Portland Jones writes with effortless poise and lyricism that doesn’t draw attention to itself.’ – 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….Seeing the Elephant is a genuine page-turner and this reviewer highly recommends reading it.’ – Robert Fairhead for the NSW Writers’ Centre.
‘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.
‘…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.