Elephants In My Backyard - Rajiv Surendra | Book Review

Pages: 336
Format: Physical
Publication: Dial Books

How I got the copy: Penguin Random House Canada
Rating: 4/5

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I found myself standing dangerously close to the edge of a cliff. Far below me was an incredible abyss with no end in sight. I could turn back and safely return to where I had come from, or I could throw caution to the wind, lift my arms up into the air . . . and jump.” — From The Elephants in My Backyard

What happens when you spend ten years obsessively pursuing a dream, and then, in the blink of an eye, you learn that you have failed, that the dream will not come true?

In 2003, Rajiv Surendra was filming Mean Girls, playing the beloved rapping mathlete Kevin Gnapoor, when a cameraman insisted he read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. So begins his “lovely and human” (Jenny Lawson, author of Furiously Happy) tale of obsessively pursuing a dream, overcoming failure, and finding meaning in life. 

Mesmerized by all the similarities between Pi and himself—both are five-foot-five with coffee-colored complexions, both share a South Indian culture, both lived by a zoo—when Rajiv learns that Life of Pi will be made into a major motion picture he is convinced that playing the title role is his destiny.

In a great leap of faith Rajiv embarks on a quest to embody the sixteen-year-old Tamil schoolboy. He quits university and buys a one-way ticket from Toronto to South India. He visits the sacred stone temples of Pondicherry, he travels to the frigid waters off the coast of rural Maine, and explores the cobbled streets of Munich. He befriends Yann Martel, a priest, a castaway, an eccentric old woman, and a pack of Tamil schoolboys. He learns how to swim, to spin wool, to keep bees, and to look a tiger in the eye. All the while he is really learning how to dream big, to fail, to survive, to love, and to become who he truly is.

Rajiv Surendra captures the uncertainty, heartache, and joy of finding ones place in the world with sly humor and refreshing honesty. The Elephants in My Backyard is not a journey of goals and victories, but a story of process and determination. It is a spellbinding and profound book for anyone who has ever failed at something and had to find a new path through life.

I loved this book. The author is the guy who played Kevin G in Mean Girls and his journey of getting ready for the part of his life. He prepares for years to play the boy in Life of Pi and his journey is so beautiful.

This book is set in Toronto and India and as a person who lives in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) I really enjoyed being able to picture the places he'd go to and talked about in the GTA. It's relatable and I don't read many books set in Toronto so it was a nice change.

When Rajiv is in India I enjoyed reading from his perspective about how he became conflicted because he'd always identified as Indian in Toronto and he realizes how far from being truly Indian he is. I'm not explaining it very properly but it's wonderful to read about culture and the perception of our own culture and our parents culture. Having parents who also immigrated to the country I could also relate to how different it was growing up compared to my friends and Rajiv talks about that too.

Elephants in my Backyard is a beautifully written memoir about Rajiv's journey of following his dreams, culture, travel, and self-exploration. It's honestly a beautiful journey and it's inspiring to read the lengths he goes to to become one character and the lessons he learns from his journey. I love Rajiv's writing style and the way he describes details is truly amazing. I'd love to read a novel written by Rajiv Surendra one day. I, obviously, recommend this book.

P.S. He talks a bit about being on the set of Mean Girls and his interactions with Lindsey Lohan and Rachel McAdams, which is a great insider tidbit that I loved because I love the movie.


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