Sarah has recently left journalism due to her frustration at not being able to do more than just tell a story. The forced abandonment her profession demands, the development of a journalists detachment that enables them to walk away and move on to the next story isn’t in her. She resigns.
In her confusion about what to do next Sarah decides to return to the country where she spent her early childhood, where mysteries about their time there still remain. India.
Protecting Bengal Tigers in India
She joins a tiger protection organisation in Ranthambore National Park and helps raise awareness of the issues of a community, where humans, their animals and wildlife compete for scarce resources, land and water. There is tension between those trying to protect the tigers and those trying to keep their animals alive, where water is scarce and the lake is a forbidden zone to them.
Sarah’s twin bother Marcus died of cholera when they were children, her mother fled with Sarah and her sister Quinn, leaving her husband and returned to America. All three of them have different perspectives on what happened that day, and Sarah’s move back begins to unravel the shadow that has remained with them all.
Sarah provokes controversy after taking a photo of a poacher that becomes evidence and lands him in jail, leaving his wife and children in difficulty and when she rescues a cub that has fallen into the river. Her actions raise her profile in the wider community, in some ways helpful to the organisation but in other ways endangering her.
Her involvement with one of her colleagues creates further complications, highlighting cultural taboos she is determined to overcome. The scheme she comes up with to resolve those issues is well-intended, requiring a stretch of the imagination to accept.
It’s a thought provoking novel that looks at how our environment has changed as species are hunted into extinction, how overpopulation and the need to survive means that humans compete with wildlife for scarce resources and how cross cultural alliances can be sabotaged by those whose worldview favours domination, or nurtured by those seeking partnership.
How We Disappear
Three Ways Humans Disappear – sickness, accident, violence
Three Ways Animals Disappear – hunted, starvation, genetic extinction
I’m still thinking about the meaning of the title as it can be interpreted in a number of ways that aren’t made clear in the text, but it made me think about how humans disappear and how animal species disappear. It seems it remains a mystery to the author as well.
“The title is a bit of a mystery even to me! I originally chose “Three” because the family in the story has three children, and “disappear” because of the threat of extinction to the tiger. But there are so many ways to disappear: for instance, through death, or by withdrawing from relationships. And as time goes by, the meaning of the title shifts a bit. Currently I think one interpretation of three ways to disappear would be physically, emotionally, and spiritually,” Yocom explained.
It took me a while to get into the book and there was some discomfort for me around the white saviour trope and although the main protagonist had spent some of her childhood in India, she didn’t feel natural to the environment, nor was her presence really appreciated, she was seen as another threat, as her first published photograph proved. Equally the love story. Overall it was an enjoyable read despite its flaws.
It reminded me of The Tusk That Did the Damage, a novel set in South India that explores the moral complexities of the ivory trade through the eyes of a poacher, a documentary filmmaker and an elephant.
The tigress in this story Machli is based on a real tiger with the same name who lived in the lakes region of Ranthambore and was observed and photographed by the author in 2006.
This book won the Siskiyou Prize for New Environmental Literature and is published by Ashland Creek Press, who publish “books that foster an appreciation for worlds outside our own, for nature and the animal kingdom, for the creative process, and for the ways in which we connect.”
It also won a First Horizon Award, a prize for debut authors bestowed by the Eric Hoffer Book Award. The EHBA honors books from small, academic, and independent presses.
EcoLit Books: An Interview and Q & A with Katy Yocom
N.B. This book was an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) kindly provided by the publisher.
I like the sound of this…
It might be a bit hard on the author to criticise the story for the ‘white saviour trope’. Although of course I haven’t read the book and I don’t know how it’s depicted, it seems to me that Jane Goodall is widely respected for her work with chimpanzees for decades, helping to restore habitat by supporting community centred conservation activities. She just happens to be white.
I wouldn’t compare Jane Goodall even in her very early days to this character, she was a zoologist and an animal behavioural scientist who after years and years of observation in the wild, began a dialogue and sought a partnership approach (which was a passive but firm form of activism) with those whose activity harmed the creatures she loved.
I liked the book and was attracted to it because I like stories that cross cultural boundaries, but I wasn’t comfortable with the reverence the author creates around her female protagonist who comes in from the outside having quit another profession and in a very short while is elevated to something almost mystic by superstitious locals. I can see how alluring that might seem, but it created a discomfort in me reading it.
Thank you for this recommendation, Claire. I will add it to my list!
This sounds interesting and thought-provoking. And a zingy cover!