An escaped elephant enters Govinda’s schoolyard, and frightens everyone. The young boy watches on in horror as the elephant is shot and then cremated. Is this a sign for dark days ahead? He has been having a hard time trying to please his father, the headmaster, and figure out his mother – something seems wrong with her but Govinda is not sure what. Mumbles, the family’s cook, is a Sikh and worried about the violence on the streets against members of his religion. In The Burning Elephant, we step into Govinda’s Calcutta, a world which revolves around the magic and menace of Serpent Lane, just beyond the school gates, and spins out into a city and country in crisis, when the Prime Minister is assassinated. This is a story of how the terrors of life can crash into adolescence and how innocence, once lost, can never be regained.

Print ISBN : 978-1-922146-92-2

Raja's characters are subjected to slights, then threats, then violence. There is a deftly deadpan quality to the way in which Govinda describes events, each more frightening and full of foreboding than the last. Horror takes the reader by surprise. Raja offers no real warning of how all-consuming communal violence can become.

The Sydney Morning Herald - Mark Thomas

The Burning Elephant is fast-paced and even frenzied at times. In some ways, the passionate storytelling style and the rich symbolism is reminiscent of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, or even Isabel Allende’s The House of the Spirits.

The Jakarta Post - Dina Indrasafitri


I am reminded of the young Marcel in Proust’s great novel of memory as he remembers his mother’s goodnight kiss, and of Alain Fournier’s recreation of adolescence in Le Grand Meaulnes, sometimes called the lost domain. One world is seen from another, across a divide. One lost, one complexly found. The distance is spanned by language, story, memory. It is the migrant’s fate. The adult condition. Where Govinda’s father was an orphan turned sahib, the son’s life has a reverse pattern, as he is severed forcibly and in different ways from his filial position.

Launch, Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Guangzhou - Kuei Yuan Café Gallery - Nicholas Jose

Told from Govinda's only half-comprehending viewpoint, this is a compelling and vivid coming-of age story.

The Sydney Morning Herald - Kerryn Goldsworthy​

Although Raja’s first novel is presented as Young Adult fiction, it contains layers of meaning that will satisfy readers of all ages.

Australian Book Review - Fiona Dorrell

The Burning Elephant is a subtly layered and textured novel, and will appeal to each reader in a different way. It is a protest against a political system; it is a deeply intimate story about a malfunctioning marital relationship; it is about an intelligent and beautiful woman seeking to escape domestic and cultural oppression, and about her husband who loves her and loses her because he does not understand her. More than all this, it tells the story of a child’s rite of passage as, enmeshed in both domestic and national issues that he does not fully understand, he takes the first humanist steps into adolescence.

Launch - Monash Asia Institute - Eltham Bookshop - Melbourne - Chandani Lokuge

NT’s best-loved India-born Australian writer

SBS - Hindi Radio - Amit Sarwal

The Burning Elephant

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