Brother Raja

I don’t know if I ever told anyone this or put hints about it in the book, but the reason Henry’s band is called Brother Raja is kind of interesting. It’s one of those “deeply local” things no one would ever think to ask about, but maybe if you actually live in St. Louis you’d get it.

So, when I was little and lived in St. Louis (actually in Edwardsville, IL!), the elephant Raja was born at the Saint Louis Zoo where I have spent, oh, an absurdity of time. I am not totally sure if I really remember this, or if this is one of those phantom memories,1 but one way or another, there’s an elephant named Raja at the St. Louis Zoo who was born when I was about 5 years old.

I really love elephants.2 I remember I had this book about a kid who had an elephant (in maybe India?) and their relationship, and it was probably not a good book because I believe there was also a tiger hunt in it, but I really loved the idea of being a kid with an elephant that grows up with you. Basically, what I’m saying is, I wanted an elephant.

I had this weird idea that Henry would have grown up with Raja too, like an older sibling at the zoo. And that it would have been really important to him, this idea that he had a sibling at the zoo, because he was an only child. Given when this book is supposed to take place, one of the many other elephants at the zoo would have been a more logical choice, but Raja was my elephant, so Raja is who I chose. I had this whole backstory for him that eventually got condensed and condensed until only the name and the elephant theme was left. Weirdly it stayed, even though you’d have to know a lot of the backstory to make sense of the reference. Hopefully there’s enough in the book that it isn’t weird.

So there you go! Sometimes as a writer these narratological side streets add value you can’t immediately perceive, so I always say follow them and edit them out later.

  1. The reason I think this is not a phantom memory is also a little weird: in our neighborhood somewhere at the time, there was a tiger statue on a high school that I was convinced was Sher Khan. I specifically remember seeing it out the window of the car around the same time and thinking about this elephant.
  2. If you know me, you’re probably laughing, because yes, I love all animals. All the animals are my favorite animal.