Read More Edward Hower: His Work and His Travels

Shadows and Elephants
A Novel About the Adventures of the
Notorious Mystic, Madame Blavatsky

by Edward Hower


"Edward Hower is a writer of talent and substance."
—William Kennedy, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

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In this sensuous novel set in the salons of Gilded Age New York City, colonial India and the jungles of Ceylon, Edward Hower imagines the story of the most scandalous couple of the nineteenth century. Based on the adventures of Madame Helena Blavatsky, the Russian-born seer notorious the world over for her claims to psychic powers, Shadows and Elephants draws us into the world of a free-spirited woman accused of being one of history's most accomplished imposters. Equally fascinating is her partner, a popular journalist based on the Civil War hero Colonel Henry Olcott. Beloved by Manhattan society for mystical gatherings in their exotic parlor, they leave America amidst a storm of controversy, and set out for adventures in the Orient on a quest for the secrets of Eastern wisdom.

Hailed by The Philadelphia Inquirer as a writer whose work is "Breathtakingly fresh and gripping…weird, haunting, and magical," Hower has written a novel about the rare and tempestuous friendship between a woman and a man who defined occultism in America. Shadows and Elephants is rich in contemporary resonance, for indeed, Spiritualism has survived for over a century, reshaped today in eclectic New Age beliefs.

"Irena Milanova is a Russian émigré who makes her mark in late-19th-centuryNew York society by holding seances that wow the city's intellectuals. Capt. Benjamin Blackburn is a Civil War veteran and a journalist, a man who is fascinated with the supernatural and accustomed to smoking out frauds. They should clash, but instead they click: Milanova wants a stamp of approval, while Blackburn secretly seeks ''something more, something real.'' They become friends and then founders of the spiritualist Alexandrian Society. When chased from New York by scandal, they flee to India and finally Ceylon. Based on the lives of Helena Blavatsky (known as Madame Blavatsky) and her partner, Col. Henry Olcott, Edward Hower's fifth novel is an expert portrait of the era when hard-nosed science was moving in on spiritualism, a paradigm shift that would eventually relegate psychics and mediums to the fringes. Hower creates complicated characters in Ben and Irena, and convincingly manages their often tempestuous, though platonic, relationship. His lush portraits of Asia, as well as a lively cast of secondary characters, make this a rewarding, often amusing tale of religious and emotional discovery."
The New York Times Book Review

"Hower paints a compelling picture of the spiritualist movement and the celebrities it drew, but the best passages are those that delve into the motives and emotions of his two flawed protagonists as they learn why they are drawn to the possibility of miracles, astral journeys and psychic phenomena. This book works on two levels, as both history and character study, and it is certain to be a welcome addition to the small but noteworthy sub-genre of fiction dealing with spiritualism."
Publishers Weekly

"The seething mood and weather of India are captured memorably [and the] the ferment of ideas that was colonial India is richly suggested in the latest from Hower who retells the story of Theosophical Society founders Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Olcott in their 19th-century quest for a legitimate home for spiritualist beliefs."
Kirkus Reviews

"Edward Hower has written a sympathetic and wonderfully readable study of a brilliant fraud and her chief accomplice. The characters are based on Madame Blavatsky, the Russian-born 19th century founder of Theosophy, and her protector Colonel Henry Steel Olcott. The action moves quickly from the United States to India and Ceylon, the homeland of mystics and fakirs. Hower's portrait of Blavatsky, however, is full of affection; he presents her as a survivor, a big heart and a genuine visionary. India, in Hower's prose, also becomes a major character; it gleams and sweats with sensuality, mystery and humanity. This is a stunning book, vivid, dramatic and full of warmth."
—Edmund White

"Edward Hower's novel is an exploration of personal dynamics, as well as a document about people who undertake an unusual spiritual journey. It's a vivid road trip through territory the author sees in close detail, an affecting story of love and friendship that is filled with unusual, unexpected (and all too human) twists and turns."
—Ann Beattie

"I have never read a book which fulfills so completely John Gardner's idea that a novel should be a "continuous dream." From its evocative title to the astonishing "ascension" of its mysterious heroine at the end, Shadows and Elephants is a mesmerizing experience for the reader."
—Lee Smith

"Hower's knowledgeable enchantment with an enchanted India illuminates this exploration of the peculiar mental and emotional life of the notorious Madame Blavatsky as she seeks enlightenment in a land that in no way takes her seriously. A generous and lively novel, Shadows and Elephants shows that behind the smoke and mirrors and astral letters, the mystical quest is the biggest maya of all."
—Joy Williams

"Edward Hower’s Shadows and Elephants is one of the most engrossing novels I’ve read in the past few years, and is certainly the most engaging—and entertaining—novel I’ve read in quite some time. Given the present rise in spiritual concerns, connected as they are with questions about the sterility of materialistic culture, Hower’s superb fictional evocation of the world of Madame Blavatsky and Colonel Henry Olcott has a special pertinency today. In describing them and their milieu, he manages a rare combination of comic irony and sympathetic understanding: the wry attitude which a tolerant Deity might feel, upon examining the record to date of the human race. Hilarious as the novel frequently is, it also takes us into the deeper regions of the psyche. Shadows and Elephants grows in emotional intensity as it proceeds, and provides a resolution that strikes me as so inspired I’m almost inclined to believe that unseen spirits moved the author."
—James McConkey,
Professor of English, Emeritus, Cornell University

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EDWARD HOWER is the author of four previous novels. His writing has appeared in venues such as The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, The Southern Review, Epoch, The Transatlantic Review, Smithsonian; his reviews in the nation's most prestigious book pages. He was inspired to write Shadows and Elephants while on his second of two Fulbright fellowships and has been awarded creative writing grants from the New York State Council on the Arts, The Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Ithaca, New York and teaches at Cornell and Ithaca College.

Read More Edward Hower: His Work and His Travels

PAGES: 317
TRIM: 6 x 9
ISBN: 0-9679520-3-4
PRICE: $14.95 / Paperback Original

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