The Elephant on Karlův Bridge

Set in Prague and narrated with great panache by the 600-year-old Charles Bridge, this novel begins with an elephant named Sál escaping the Prague Zoo. As the elephant moves through the beautiful Czech city, the lives of the men and women she meets are altered by the encounter. Each character is at a crossroads, and desperately seeking the wisdom they need to wrestle with profound questions—how to live, how to love, who to love, how to heal. And the elephant herself is haunted, as memories of her long-ago capture in Africa resurface.

Sál carries the narrative from one point of view to another: Vasha, a writer and night watchman at the zoo, and his wife Marta, a psychotherapist, confront the question of whether to have a child; Šárka, Marta’s patient and a dancer at the end of her career, is visited by a charming and often abrasive manifestation of the long-dead ballerina Anna Pavlova; Joseph, a clown and bouffon, performs on the Karlův Bridge itself, and he is about to be struck down (literally and figuratively) by a new love…

Through it all, Sál steals the show, wandering the streets in search of water and food, bearing her own share of sadness and painful memories as she struggles to find her way out of her bewildering predicament. Though she, like the humans she encounters, is free now to make her own choices, she is also displaced and lost.

Thomas Trofimuk’s novel masterfully convinces us to accept all the wonders contained in it: that a bridge can tell a story, that art is integral to our survival, that an elephant can scatter sudden flashes of insight in her wake, that there is no separation between the grief of elephants and the grief of humans.