Gila Green's No Entry
Pictures of dead elephants, their tusks ripped out, greeted 17 year old Yael Amar as she toured an outdoor market upon her arrival in South Africa. She meets a British photographer of wildlife, and sees his exhibit on elephant poaching, which are brutal photographs that are a foreshadowing of what Yael will see later.
Proud that she was going to an elephant reserve, Kruger National Park that was protecting animals like elephants, Yael never thought that she would encounter the very cruelty there that she thought she was helping to prevent.
Encountering violence and danger was the last thing on Yael’s mind, as her plan was to escape the trauma in her Canadian home, where she and her parents were mourning the murder of her brother by terrorists at a Montreal café.
Yael gets an education on the reserve, and it’s more than about nature. She learns about ivory
poaching. The heartbreak of the dead elephants. The greed and violence of the poachers. The evils of apartheid. And betrayal by one who was supposed to teach and protect Yael, someone she trusted and admired.
Common themes in Gila Green’s fiction are incorporated into No Entry as well. The influence of Israel coming from Yael’s father, of Yemenite origin, true of the author as well. Revealed are layers of South African society, personified by main characters and experiences of our heroine, from the wealthy to the poor, from the free to those bound by apartheid, then the political and economic system in South Africa.
The complexities of the poaching trade are bared. While cruelty and greed are a large part of the trade, many impoverished South Africans were forced to participate or keep secret their knowledge, to help keep their families fed, clothed and housed. The mercilessness encompasses not only elephants but people besides. Sadly, Gila told me, with travel restriction because of the Corona Virus, “It has been a field day for poachers who have much less oversight now with the lack of tourists to Africa.”
A Green theme of trust also emerges. Clara Smith, the program director of the reserve, begins to train Yael, who is proud of her new skills. First aid. Tracking. Knowledge of animal sounds. Driving a jeep. Unknowing of what she is becoming entangled in, Yael is delighted to use all her skills until she realizes that Clara, the woman she relied on, trusted and admired, used her to aid Clara in elephant poaching. Such is the betrayal we feel when leaders turn out to be corrupt, greedy and power hungry without regard for those they damage.
Without permission, Yael and a driver are led into a staff only area, with a sign “No Entry” at entrance. They encounter an elephant killed by poachers, tusks ripped out, head blown apart by power rifles. Shocked and heartbroken, Yael takes photos of the dead elephant, a baby, an orphan alone without a herd. Memories of her brother’s murder surface. She asks her South African uncle to take her to a shooting range to learn to shoot. With knowledge and with skills, Yael’s anger transforms to courage to help save the life of her driver and boyfriend, and probably her own.
At the end of the novel, Yael re-encounters the British photographer with the elephant poaching photo exhibition. She gives him her photo of the dead baby elephant. Yael has grown in experience and in wisdom of the world around her. This growth was engendered by pain and by a betrayal of what she had known and trusted. Her photograph of the dead baby elephant becomes a symbol not only of the cruelties of elephant poaching. It shows Yael’s path to speaking out and standing up for her beliefs and for truth, not an easy task in a world of power and corruption.
Book Club Discussion Questions https://stormbirdpress.com/book/no-entry/
Pumpkin Pancakes or pampoenkoekies are a favorite in South Africa. This recipe couldn’t come at a better time with the American Thanksgiving just around the corner. What a great breakfast in this season!