Colin P. Smith (Lulu 2014, Trade Paperback) 126 pages, cover price n/a
Rare Earth is that rarest of independently published books. Not only is it well-written; not only is it engrossing; not only is it factually valuable, it also will rip your heart out assuming you care anything about the non-human flesh-and-blood creatures that share this planet. This is the story of the ivory trade.
Ostensibly a novel, Rare Earth has a brisk and purposeful narrative based around Adam Ross, the son of a gamekeeper who was murdered by poachers. In the first of several scenes described with bloody yet clinical detail, Adam becomes an animal rights sympathizer after a childhood experience when he stabs and kills an adult stag. He watches it die.
Adam looked down at the nearly severed head, and the stag's eyes focused on him. He could feel the burning rage, the hatred, and fear in those eyes that just kept looking at him until they slowly glazed over and the animal stared no more.
For the rest of his life, he would always remember that look, those eyes, the hatred, and the fear. He would also always remember his own reactions – the revulsion, the shame … the elation!
Now that is a damn fine piece of writing and this entire short novel has similar on every page. A retired scientist, this is Smith's first novel and dear Lord was it ever worth the wait. It takes a lot to make me cry, but this book moved me in a way similar to that of Black Beauty, or the nature novels of Farley Mowat.
The sickness of the ivory trade, with its slaughter of elephants and rhinos for their tusks, is laid out vividly. It is also clearly noted in the novel that one of the prime benefactors of this illegal trade is religion. A white elephant supposedly appeared to Buddha and so ivory carvings of elephants are of great value to Buddhists. We'll just pause a moment while that irony smacks you about the face.
There is also the Catholic Church. I fact-checked a point made in Rare Earth and it is sadly true. Amongst the very few nations that have not signed the 1973 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is the Vatican. This places the Holy See in the unpleasant company of the Communist totalitarian state of North Korea, as well as the voodoo worship of Haiti. The Roman Catholic Church still allows the consecration of ivory made crucifixes, Rosaries and the like, to which I must note editorially that if Pope Francis is all he's cracked up to be, how about one less pretty speech and one more autograph on that treaty?
One last note, and this too makes Rare Earth a very rare work. Author Colin P. Smith says in an Author's Note, 'I will donate the royalties from this novel to organizations which can convince me that they have effective campaigns to help end this dreadful gratuitous slaughter.'
The descriptions of death and maiming in Rare Earth are not for the faint of heart, yet sometimes we need to faint in order to see with greater conscience.
Be seeing you.