White Elephant

by Catherine Cooper

May 7, 2016
6 x 9 paperback, 354 pages
CDN $21.95

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Finalist for the 2017 Amazon.ca First Novel Award
Finalist for the 2017 Alberta Trade Fiction Book of the Year Award

Set in Sierra Leone in the early 1990s, White Elephant centres around the Berringers, a troubled Nova Scotian family who decide to abandon their recently-completed dream home in Canada and move to a village in northern Sierra Leone, despite warnings that the West African country is in a civil war. When the novel begins, Richard Berringer, a physician, his wife, Ann, and their thirteen-year-old son, Torquil, have been in Sierra Leone for two months, and things are not going well. Plagued by mysterious allergies and a series of tropical illnesses and trying unsuccessfully to broker a peace between her embattled husband and son, Ann is desperate to heal herself and her family. Richard, unable to tolerate Torquil’s behaviour or continue feigning sympathy for Ann’s ailments, takes solace in the satisfaction of practicing tropical medicine–but a mounting conflict with his boss threatens to put an end to that. Meanwhile, Torquil—who hates Sierra Leone almost as much as he hates his father—has gone on a hunger strike in an effort to convince his mother to take him back to Canada. As the story progresses, both the war and the family’s domestic hostilities escalate, and like their impossible-to-sell home, the dream of harmonious family life that it represented also proves itself to be a white elephant—something so dear that it becomes a burden.

“A remarkable debut. Catherine Cooper writes with the insight and humanity and wit of a seasoned storyteller, making us root for her characters even as they pave the way to hell with their good intentions, and showing us in their follies a mirror of our own.” — Nino Ricci 

“A thrilling and soulful journey… Catherine Cooper springs to literary life bravely, with a huge novel, sure to become a classic.”— Josip Novakovich

“An unflinching portrait of a family . . . White Elephant is not for the faint-hearted. It’s a compulsively readable work of art.”—Michael Redhill 



White Elephant is a brilliant exploration of human nature and relationships.” Atlantic Books Today, November 14, 2016.

“[T]he author’s character development is impressive—subtle yet profound. As the novel closes, the Berringers’ strength as a family culminates in a page-turning conclusion. Alongside family dysfunction, White Elephant is packed with medicine, miracles and exorcisms, which makes it a book about healing in any sense you can imagine.” The Winnipeg Review, August 22, 2016.

I’ve Read This, July 14, 2016.

“[i]t takes a little while for momentum to build. But once it begins, the story is quite gripping, these terrible people hurtling toward their inevitable disaster.” Pickle Me This, June 28, 2016.

“Who thought this was a good idea? Family falling apart in Canada decides the solution is to move across the world to a country on the verge of civil war. Things are not going to go well, and while the tension is a bit unbearable, it’s really hard to put this book down.” 49th Shelf, June 23, 2016.

Review: Buried in Print, June 20, 2016.

“[S]o deftly executed that it’s impossible to turn away.” Toronto Star, May 8, 2016.