Soul of the Elephant

The Kind Mahout Series - Book 1

Fiction - Adventure
Kindle Edition
Reviewed on 08/05/2019
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

Where did I get my idea for Soul of the Elephant? I wanted to write a book for my sons that was a coming of age, adventure story set in an exotic location. What better place than India? I loved the idea of spicing up the plot with tigers, elephants, monsoons, spirit animals and cultural superstitions.

Personally, I’ve always been drawn to the Indian culture: the food, clothes, history, customs and terrain. But researching 1870 South India was even more intriguing than I imagined. Pouring over old diaries and journals written by missionaries, hunters, geologists, government employees of the East India Company and travelers was time consuming, but fascinating.

So why elephants? Now this is where things take a strange turn. Some may think it’s unbelievable, but it’s the absolute truth. While riding my bike at Monmouth University in West Long Branch in 1981, I had a chance encounter with a baby elephant. I found it tethered under a tree. When I got off my bike to take a look, somebody chased me away with a stick. Nobody believed me until we discovered Annie had been filmed at the university.

Some disbelievers say an elephant wasn’t in any of the Wilson Hall scenes, but I know what I saw. The little, big-eared pachyderm always stuck with me and made its way into Hemit, the Kind Mahout series.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Joel R. Dennstedt for Readers' Favorite

Rather like the man-eating tiger (perhaps a man-tiger) who insidiously patrols the opening chapters of Pam Laughlin’s novel, Soul of the Elephant, this book excels at sneaking up on its reader, solely intent on devouring him whole. Which, piece by piece, chapter by chapter, increasingly ravenous, it does. And, not to be too grisly here, this is a very meaty book, especially for the young adult. Within an intensely engaging, dramatic, compelling narrative, choreographed meticulously well by Ms. Laughlin, many delicious morsels are provided for meditative savoring. These include the formidability of the natural world, how humans relate to their parental world (and each other, and their animal brothers), and, wondrously, how our relationship to spirit flavors each of these interactions.

Set in the jungles of India at the turn of the previous century, Soul of the Elephant by Pam Laughlin is, at its core, all about the title. Hemit is the young hero destined and defined to become a mahout (elephant trainer and minder), whose unorthodox beliefs requiring compassion and kindness towards these massive, big-hearted beasts sets him at confrontational odds with the other mahouts, especially his own father. Once the issue of the tiger has been dramatically resolved, Hemit meets a spiritual fellow-thinker who becomes his mentor, a man mostly shunned by the community, who teaches him how to become an elephant whisperer. Excuse me ... an elephant “husher”. Hemit is a natural, and his journey on the arduous path toward eventual manhood and deeper intimacy with elephant souls develops into a well-told, truly captivating story.

Debjani Ghosh

Born into a family of mahouts (elephant trainers), Hemit dreams of getting his elephant in the cattle fair next year. He is a gentle soul and understands animals in a way that no one can. He believes the relationship between a mahout and his elephant should be based on trust, love, and respect. However, his father uses harsh ways to dominate his elephant. Unable to withstand any more ill-treatment towards the pachyderms in the family stable, he takes a stand against his father. Hemit’s yearning to understand the elephants better leads him to a mystical fakir, whom everyone believes is an evil sorcerer. But Hemit sees otherwise and accepts the fakir’s help to learn how to communicate with his beloved elephant. Will Hemit succeed in convincing his father that love and respect are the only ways to gain an animal’s trust? With his new-found learning, can Hemit win Aasha’s (an abused elephant) trust? Read Soul of the Elephant by Pam Laughlin to find out.

Laughlin’s vividly descriptive prose took me out of the comfort of my home and hurled me smack-dab into the middle of Hemit’s village in South India, close to the Periyar river. I could smell the rich aroma of the sambar, dosa, and chutney that Hemit’s mother cooked for him. I could see him playing with his friends in the forest which reminded me of my childhood days playing the same games. Laughlin describes every elephant in Hemit’s family’s stable uniquely so that I could clearly distinguish between the lovely Jani, the sensitive Kari, and the motherly Maya. Soul of the Elephant breathes wilderness on every page. Further, Hemit’s transformation from a boy eager to please his father to a man who opposes his father’s strict ways of dealing with elephants is another major strength of this book. The supporting characters are also satisfyingly etched. Moreover, Laughlin needs to be applauded for the exhaustive research she has done to immerse the reader in nineteenth-century India. If you want to read a conventional coming-of-age story mixed with fantastical elements such as weretigers, mystical fakirs and a healthy dose of exotic wilderness, Soul of the Elephant by Pam Laughlin is the book for you.

Vincent Dublado

Soul of the Elephant is the first installment in Pam Laughlin’s The Kind Mahout Series, and it creates a lasting impression. Journey to the past of South India in the 1870s where the exotic locales and people permeate your senses. At the center of this panorama is Hemit, a fifteen-year-old mahout in training. Becoming a mahout is a lifelong profession that begins early in life and is bound in strict adherence to rules. Hemit breaks the mold by questioning inhumane elephant-keeping practices and renounces family tradition. Against the behest of his own parents, he seeks out the tutelage of a mysterious elephant-whisperer reputed to possess mystical powers. Under the guidance of this mystic, Hemit unleashes his hidden power and brings healing but becomes misunderstood. With his father as his greatest obstacle, love and understanding will be tested to their limits.

Pam Laughlin’s story has the country of a younger India as her background. It is one of the places in the world with a rich and varied life that provides great material for the writer. She narrates fiction with the backdrop of fact-checked events, her characters compounded of a blood ancestry segregated by an oppressive caste system. Few outsiders can hope to paint the whole of this colorful, contrasting, clashing, and evolving human culture in which Laughlin has immersed herself. Soul of the Elephant is as mysterious as the secrets of Indian mystics, yet as real and profound as the plight of working elephants. This is a series worth rooting for.

Rita Dector

This book will transport you to the exotic world of late nineteenth century India rendered in gorgeous detail. Although the setting is exotic, this story centers around the universal struggle of each generation to balance respect for family obligation and tradition while pursuing their own dreams. Young readers will identify with Hemit’s love of elephants and his mystical journey towards self actualization. Happy to hear that further adventures await in this series that deserves to be the next Harry Potter, if Potter was a teenage Indian boy!


Impressive amount of research went in to this book in order to put the reader back in time during the colonial occupation of India. The story is timeless....the struggle of a young boy to live up to his father's expectations while trying to forge his own path and follow his own instincts. Highly recommend this as a summer read for all ages!

Lucas Markovitch

It was a really good read. I was nervous at first when I bought it because I don't usually read historical fiction. But it turned out to be a really interesting and entertaining book that I really encourage people to read.

Google Books Reviewer

I loved taking this journey back to this place and time. The story was suspenseful, magical, emotional and filled with kindness. A great read that is well written. I highly recommend this book and I am looking forward to reading book 2.


great book! I read a lot of books in my day and I stumbled across this book. Very good a drawing in your attention.

Jeremy Spuner

good read nice characters


i really liked the book

Lane Diamond

This book will transport you to exotic India in the mid 1800s, and introduce you to wonderful characters you'll never forget - a truly enjoyable and entertaining adventure.