A Training School for Elephants

A Training School for Elephants

Summary

Brought to you by Penguin

From the acclaimed author of The Lost Pianos of Siberia, comes a new journey tracing a colonial-era African expedition.

In 1879, King Leopold II of Belgium launched an ambitious plan to plunder Africa’s resources. The key to cracking open the continent, or so he thought, was its elephants — if only he could train them. And so he commissioned the charismatic Irish adventurer Frederick Carter to ship four tamed Asian elephants from India to the East African coast, where they were marched inland towards Congo. The ultimate aim was to establish a training school for African elephants.

Following in the footsteps of the four elephants, Roberts pieces together the story of this long-forgotten expedition, in travels that take her to Belgium, Iraq, India, Tanzania and Congo. The storytelling brings to life a compelling cast of historic characters and modern voices, from ivory dealers to Catholic nuns, set against rich descriptions of the landscapes travelled. She digs deep into historic records to reckon with our broken relationship with animals, revealing an extraordinary — and enduring — story of colonial greed, ineptitude, hypocrisy and folly.

'A modern-day Freya Stark' - Tatler
'Roberts' writing is beguiling' - The i
'Roberts is a wonderfully lyrical writer' - Observer


© Sophy Roberts 2025 (P) Penguin Audio 2025

About the author

Sophy Roberts

Sophy Roberts is a British writer whose work focuses on the wild places from Papua New Guinea to the Congo. She began her career assisting the writer Jessica Mitford, and trained in journalism at Columbia University in New York. She regularly contributes to the Financial Times and the US edition of Condé Nast Traveler, among others.
Learn More

Sign up to the Penguin Newsletter

For the latest books, recommendations, author interviews and more