The Elephants in My Backyard

Book cover of The Elephants in My Backyard, showing a young man drawing the title with decorative script on a chalkboard

The idea of The Elephants in My Backyard (2016) by Rajiv Surendra was interesting–a young actor is so enthralled with a character in a book and the similarities he shares with the character that he starts an email correspondence with the author and goes on a years-long quest to prepare himself for the role by visiting places in the book and learning skills that character had mastered but he hadn’t. Unfortunately, Surendra infused the story with so much anti-fat bias that I had a hard time relating to him or his journey.

In 2004, Rajiv was living in Toronto with his Sri Lankan-born parents when he is cast as the role of Kevin Gnapoor, the rapping mathlete in the movie Mean Girls. A crewmember on set gives him a copy of Life of Pi, which he devours and instantly relates to the character of Pi. Playing Pi in the movie version of the book becomes his all-encompassing goal. He travels to India, learns how to swim, and turns down a regular series role in the hopes of landing the role of Pi.

There are many passages where he describes the anxiety spirals in his head, where he is catastrophizing, and these are where the anti-fat bias is worst. I had really enjoyed Life of Pi–both the book and movie when I read and watched each years ago, so I was really drawn in by Surendra’s story at first. His failure to recognize bias in all its forms was dehumanizing and disappointing and ruined the book for me.

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