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“This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I found myself standing dangerously close to the edge of a cliff. Far below me was an incredible abyss with no end in sight. I could turn back and safely return to where I had come from, or I could throw caution to the wind, lift my arms up into the air . . . and jump.” — From The Elephants in My Backyard What happens when you spend te “This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I found myself standing dangerously close to the edge of a cliff. Far below me was an incredible abyss with no end in sight. I could turn back and safely return to where I had come from, or I could throw caution to the wind, lift my arms up into the air . . . and jump.” — From The Elephants in My Backyard What happens when you spend ten years obsessively pursuing a dream, and then, in the blink of an eye, you learn that you have failed, that the dream will not come true? In 2003, Rajiv Surendra was filming Mean Girls, playing the beloved rapping mathlete Kevin Gnapoor, when a cameraman insisted he read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. So begins his “lovely and human” (Jenny Lawson, author of Furiously Happy) tale of obsessively pursuing a dream, overcoming failure, and finding meaning in life. Mesmerized by all the similarities between Pi and himself—both are five-foot-five with coffee-colored complexions, both share a South Indian culture, both lived by a zoo—when Rajiv learns that Life of Pi will be made into a major motion picture he is convinced that playing the title role is his destiny. In a great leap of faith Rajiv embarks on a quest to embody the sixteen-year-old Tamil schoolboy. He quits university and buys a one-way ticket from Toronto to South India. He visits the sacred stone temples of Pondicherry, he travels to the frigid waters off the coast of rural Maine, and explores the cobbled streets of Munich. He befriends Yann Martel, a priest, a castaway, an eccentric old woman, and a pack of Tamil schoolboys. He learns how to swim, to spin wool, to keep bees, and to look a tiger in the eye. All the while he is really learning how to dream big, to fail, to survive, to love, and to become who he truly is. Rajiv Surendra captures the uncertainty, heartache, and joy of finding ones place in the world with sly humor and refreshing honesty. The Elephants in My Backyard is not a journey of goals and victories, but a story of process and determination. It is a spellbinding and profound book for anyone who has ever failed at something and had to find a new path through life


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“This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I found myself standing dangerously close to the edge of a cliff. Far below me was an incredible abyss with no end in sight. I could turn back and safely return to where I had come from, or I could throw caution to the wind, lift my arms up into the air . . . and jump.” — From The Elephants in My Backyard What happens when you spend te “This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance. I found myself standing dangerously close to the edge of a cliff. Far below me was an incredible abyss with no end in sight. I could turn back and safely return to where I had come from, or I could throw caution to the wind, lift my arms up into the air . . . and jump.” — From The Elephants in My Backyard What happens when you spend ten years obsessively pursuing a dream, and then, in the blink of an eye, you learn that you have failed, that the dream will not come true? In 2003, Rajiv Surendra was filming Mean Girls, playing the beloved rapping mathlete Kevin Gnapoor, when a cameraman insisted he read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. So begins his “lovely and human” (Jenny Lawson, author of Furiously Happy) tale of obsessively pursuing a dream, overcoming failure, and finding meaning in life. Mesmerized by all the similarities between Pi and himself—both are five-foot-five with coffee-colored complexions, both share a South Indian culture, both lived by a zoo—when Rajiv learns that Life of Pi will be made into a major motion picture he is convinced that playing the title role is his destiny. In a great leap of faith Rajiv embarks on a quest to embody the sixteen-year-old Tamil schoolboy. He quits university and buys a one-way ticket from Toronto to South India. He visits the sacred stone temples of Pondicherry, he travels to the frigid waters off the coast of rural Maine, and explores the cobbled streets of Munich. He befriends Yann Martel, a priest, a castaway, an eccentric old woman, and a pack of Tamil schoolboys. He learns how to swim, to spin wool, to keep bees, and to look a tiger in the eye. All the while he is really learning how to dream big, to fail, to survive, to love, and to become who he truly is. Rajiv Surendra captures the uncertainty, heartache, and joy of finding ones place in the world with sly humor and refreshing honesty. The Elephants in My Backyard is not a journey of goals and victories, but a story of process and determination. It is a spellbinding and profound book for anyone who has ever failed at something and had to find a new path through life

30 review for The Elephants in My Backyard: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Penny (Literary Hoarders)

    3.5 stars The Elephants in My Backyard is the memoir of Rajiv Surendra (Kevin - the rapping mathlete in Mean Girls!) and his quest to be Pi in the movie based on the book, Life of Pi. He was intent, like obsessively intent on becoming Pi, from traveling to India to the places in the novel, learning to swim, and emailing the author, Yann Martel. The email responses from Martel are included in this book, but not Surendra's correspondence. How Martel did not lose his sh*t with this guy, remaine 3.5 stars The Elephants in My Backyard is the memoir of Rajiv Surendra (Kevin - the rapping mathlete in Mean Girls!) and his quest to be Pi in the movie based on the book, Life of Pi. He was intent, like obsessively intent on becoming Pi, from traveling to India to the places in the novel, learning to swim, and emailing the author, Yann Martel. The email responses from Martel are included in this book, but not Surendra's correspondence. How Martel did not lose his sh*t with this guy, remained polite and kind is beyond me! It was quite obsessive seeming his emailing Martel through the years and through the many directors Hollywood burned through before finally landing Ang Lee but sadly, not casting Rajiv Surendra. The final chapters are good ones - Rajiv left Toronto, left his dream of playing Pi and his unhappy home life and moved to Munich where he found peace and happiness.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tova

    Kevin G, my dudes. It's interesting knowing from the very beginning the outcome, which makes it an even bigger oof, but it was super interesting reading about Rajiv's journey to fully embrace Pi. That's dedication and it's a beautiful thing.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lex

    *A copy of this book was provided to me by Penguin Random House Canada* This is so good, relatable and eye opening. I loved this book. The author is the guy who played Kevin G in Mean Girls and his journey of getting ready for the part of his life. He prepares for years to play the boy in Life of Pi and his journey is so beautiful. This book is set in Toronto and India and as a person who lives in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) I really enjoyed being able to picture the places he'd go to and talked *A copy of this book was provided to me by Penguin Random House Canada* This is so good, relatable and eye opening. I loved this book. The author is the guy who played Kevin G in Mean Girls and his journey of getting ready for the part of his life. He prepares for years to play the boy in Life of Pi and his journey is so beautiful. This book is set in Toronto and India and as a person who lives in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) I really enjoyed being able to picture the places he'd go to and talked about in the GTA. It's relatable and I don't read many books set in Toronto so it was a nice change. When Rajiv is in India I enjoyed reading from his perspective about how he became conflicted because he'd always identified as Indian in Toronto and he realizes how far from being truly Indian he is. I'm not explaining it very properly but it's wonderful to read about culture and the perception of our own culture and our parents culture. Having parents who also immigrated to the country I could also relate to how different it was growing up compared to my friends and Rajiv talks about that too. Elephants in my Backyard is a beautifully written memoir about Rajiv's journey of following his dreams, culture, travel, and self-exploration. It's honestly a beautiful journey and it's inspiring to read the lengths he goes to to become one character and the lessons he learns from his journey. I love Rajiv's writing style and the way he describes details is truly amazing. I'd love to read a novel written by Rajiv Surendra one day. I, obviously, recommend this book. P.S. He talks a bit about being on the set of Mean Girls and his interactions with Lindsey Lohan and Rachel McAdams, which is a great insider tidbit that I loved because I love the movie.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Maggie Wrobel

    This book was a wonderful surprise. Rajiv, best known as Kevin G, the rapping mathlete in the amazing 'Mean Girls,' shares here his determined story of wanting the role of Pi in the film adaptation of Yann Martel's 'Life of Pi.' I won't give away anything except to say his story is inspiring, funny, poignant and to me was very relatable. Goals help us shape our lives. Rajiv writes with clarity and humour. An inspiring effort, both on and off the page.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Barbara McEwen

    2.5 stars - It was ok. He seems like a nice guy. There just wasn't a whole lot of substance here.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kelly

    Most of us know Rajiv Surendra as Kevin Gnapoor from Mean Girls, and it turns out that he is a really interesting person in real life. His memoir is about his quest to land the leading role in the film adaptation of Life of Pi, ultimately not getting cast but growing as a person in the process. He’s the person you know casually, then end up sitting next to at a dinner party and being surprised by all his interests and experiences.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Disclaimer: I won a free copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Surendra's story is a great reminder that often the journey is more important than the destination in life. If you're a huge Mean Girls fan like me, then you'll recognize Surendra as the rapping mathlete Kevin Gnapor. Learning that the actor was nothing like the character was fun and this book tells the story of how he spent years pursuing the lead role in Life of Pi but ending up learning a Disclaimer: I won a free copy of this book through a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review. Surendra's story is a great reminder that often the journey is more important than the destination in life. If you're a huge Mean Girls fan like me, then you'll recognize Surendra as the rapping mathlete Kevin Gnapor. Learning that the actor was nothing like the character was fun and this book tells the story of how he spent years pursuing the lead role in Life of Pi but ending up learning a lot more than how to portray a teenage Indian boy. I had two very conflicting trains of thought while reading this book. On the one hand it's a story filled with all sorts of cool stuff. Surendra does unusual things and meets such a wide variety of people. He travels to India and Germany among other places. He imbues his narrative with intricate details at just the right points to truly make you feel like you're there with him. And then the grumpy curmudgeon in me says that this is all nonsense. We can't all live this whimsical bohemian blifestyle he creates for himself. How the hell can he afford to fly to India when it sounds like his alcoholic father drinks all the money that comes into the house? Why is he so obsessed with his artistic pursuits that he skips Christmas with his family and really seems indifferent to them throughout the story? I think if you're looking for a transformative travel book - stories of interesting people and places with a little personal growth thrown in, too - this will work nicely.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I started following Rajiv's work after I had read an article about his career switch from an actor (notable as mathlete Kevin G in MEAN GIRLS) to a calligrapher and chalkboard artist. His memoir, THE ELEPHANTS IN MY BACKYARD, describes his journey of study to try to get the lead role of LIFE OF PI. From befriending the author to visiting South India, learning how to swim, flying to Maine to interview a survivor who was lost at sea, he strived to achieve a dream that ultimately was not to be. How I started following Rajiv's work after I had read an article about his career switch from an actor (notable as mathlete Kevin G in MEAN GIRLS) to a calligrapher and chalkboard artist. His memoir, THE ELEPHANTS IN MY BACKYARD, describes his journey of study to try to get the lead role of LIFE OF PI. From befriending the author to visiting South India, learning how to swim, flying to Maine to interview a survivor who was lost at sea, he strived to achieve a dream that ultimately was not to be. However, these life experiences helped guide him to his discovery of the person he wanted to become. You can feel Surendra's love of Old World aesthetic from this book, which also features sketches/flourishes by the author. I'd also encourage the reader to check out photos of Surendra's work online at lettersinink.com.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Elissa Sweet

    A moving, funny memoir written by Rajiv Surendra, the actor who played the rapping mathlete Kevin G. in Mean Girls and now works as an accomplished visual artist. This book is a bit about showbiz, but more than that, it's about obsession and passion, about following a dream so long that the journey becomes more important than the destination. Part travelogue, part obsessive quest, part coming-of-age story, this insightful memoir is about finding your roots and learning who you are, while shuttin A moving, funny memoir written by Rajiv Surendra, the actor who played the rapping mathlete Kevin G. in Mean Girls and now works as an accomplished visual artist. This book is a bit about showbiz, but more than that, it's about obsession and passion, about following a dream so long that the journey becomes more important than the destination. Part travelogue, part obsessive quest, part coming-of-age story, this insightful memoir is about finding your roots and learning who you are, while shutting up the voices in your head who say you can't do it.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Allison

    A memoir of a young man? I found that premise intriguing to start. Aren't memoirs for the old to look back over their life? No. This was a lovely book. A story of a particular time in his life when he was chasing the "perfect" role. We know he doesn't get the role before we even pick up the book. But, nonetheless, it was interesting to see his progress and his determination. I especially appreciate how adaptive he is and how dedicated he is to his goal. Oh, to be so focused.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Oceantide74

    3.5 stars. Well written except for sprinkling here and there of comments/tidbits that seemed like gratuitous afterthoughts to seem "edgy/funny." But overall I enjoyed the authors ability to embrace new experiences and people. It was interesting to read his journey since l love Life of Pi (book and movie).

  12. 4 out of 5

    Jackie Rogers

    I really like Rajiv and his book. He has a dream of playing star role in The Life of Pi. He studies, travels, and strives to be the best for the part. We all know he didn't get his hearts desire, but the struggle to chase his dream and the heartbreak when it goes to another is a great read. Thanks to Goodreads

  13. 5 out of 5

    Ruby

    What a cool fellow! It took me a while to get into this book, but once I did, I loved it. Rajiv sounds like the kind of person I would love to have as a friend. He has so many cool interests! I'm going to have to look at his business website now... :-)

  14. 4 out of 5

    Agu

    Got more and more boring.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Sonya Murphy

    I loved this book, this is a man that I would love to meet. I highly recommend the audible version, the author narrates it, and does an excellent job!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    "I look over at Steve and it hits me - life goes on. Life doesn't stay the same. Ups and downs. Loud and quiet. There he is, sitting by the fire, having his coffee and smiling, when about thirty years ago he had been in the middle of the ocean, all alone." never thought i would enjoy the memoir of the actor who played kevin g in mean girls, but he tells a story that we can all relate to. he spent almost a decade of his life researching, studying, trying to embody and work towards the role of "I look over at Steve and it hits me - life goes on. Life doesn't stay the same. Ups and downs. Loud and quiet. There he is, sitting by the fire, having his coffee and smiling, when about thirty years ago he had been in the middle of the ocean, all alone." never thought i would enjoy the memoir of the actor who played kevin g in mean girls, but he tells a story that we can all relate to. he spent almost a decade of his life researching, studying, trying to embody and work towards the role of pi from life of pi. he yearned for the role, gave up opportunities to make space for the role (i actually cringed when he turned down a lead role in a tv series in fear that it would interfere with filming life of pi), and then in one e-mail boom, he learned that they had given the role to someone else. we've all received that e-mail, or text message, or whatever, telling us simply that our dreams are a no-go. but as rajiv surendra learns, life goes on. our failures are what makes us stronger. better. as an actor, i enjoyed reading about his process of researching for a role, his auditions, meetings with casting directors, his travels. i hope he doesn't give up on his acting dreams; i hope he's still out there auditioning and dreaming, and that we all continue on our journeys and the path to our goals and eat cake filled with rainbows and smiles and everyone would eat and be happy. sorry, couldn't refrain from a mean girls reference. 5 stars. recommend to everyone.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jaclyn

    The endearing story of a Toronto actor (he played Kevin G, the rapping mathlete in Mean Girls!) who dreams of being PI in the film version of Life of PI. He works hazard for six years to get into the part -- he stays in India for a while, he learns to swim, he interviews a shipwreck survivor -- all to make sure he's ready to become PI on the screen. His interest in Pi borders on obsessive at times, but his writing is really sweet, and I understand the frustration of being typecast in particular The endearing story of a Toronto actor (he played Kevin G, the rapping mathlete in Mean Girls!) who dreams of being PI in the film version of Life of PI. He works hazard for six years to get into the part -- he stays in India for a while, he learns to swim, he interviews a shipwreck survivor -- all to make sure he's ready to become PI on the screen. His interest in Pi borders on obsessive at times, but his writing is really sweet, and I understand the frustration of being typecast in particular roles because of your skin colour. I can see how a rich role like PI would be attractive, particularly when the character seems so similar to him. Rajiv is an earnest, likeable narrator -- you can't help but want him to succeed. He's also a talented calligrapher -- he did the beautiful text on the cover -- and I'm happy that he's found success on this field as well.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Logan-Reynolds

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I’m going to sound a little Mean Girl, but this is me being honest. He gave up a good role for nothing. Please note that the replacement for that series role has gone on to have a semi successful acting career. Obsessed is the only way to put it! Look up his current acting status for a laugh. Have fun being a starving artist/wannabee actor, because it appears to me that he is a better artist than actor! One last thing: the dude is fixated on body parts and functions. Like grody details that I do I’m going to sound a little Mean Girl, but this is me being honest. He gave up a good role for nothing. Please note that the replacement for that series role has gone on to have a semi successful acting career. Obsessed is the only way to put it! Look up his current acting status for a laugh. Have fun being a starving artist/wannabee actor, because it appears to me that he is a better artist than actor! One last thing: the dude is fixated on body parts and functions. Like grody details that I don’t need to know, such the anteater reference.🙄

  19. 4 out of 5

    Clare

    I haven’t seen the Mean Girls movie. I’ve read Pi but haven’t seen the movie. Nonetheless, this was a great memoir. He is such an interesting person that you’ll be engaged in his story even if you’re not familiar with his acting. Rajiv’s adventures and explorations take him to different paths in life than he imagined or planned and his thoughtfulness ensures that he learns something at every stage. He is a terrific writer and creative, imaginative soul. This book was delightful to read and experie I haven’t seen the Mean Girls movie. I’ve read Pi but haven’t seen the movie. Nonetheless, this was a great memoir. He is such an interesting person that you’ll be engaged in his story even if you’re not familiar with his acting. Rajiv’s adventures and explorations take him to different paths in life than he imagined or planned and his thoughtfulness ensures that he learns something at every stage. He is a terrific writer and creative, imaginative soul. This book was delightful to read and experience.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Cathy

    I really enjoyed reading this book. I loved Life of Pi and have travelled India so there was a lot of triggering of happy memories. His writing style seems a bit immature still, not always as cohesive as it could be but it was still a good story and I think he could end up a really engaging writer if he continues.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Laura Stevenson

    I really enjoyed this book. I thought from the cover, the author starred in the film - I could have quickly verified, but it kept me intrigued. I loved the the idea of not letting a major setback continue to define his life, but rebuilding after that. The way he writes, he presents himself as very kind and thoughtful. I loved the attention to detail in the anecdotes he shared.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sheila Jacks

    I was pleasantly surprised by this book,I could not put it down! Many times I couldn't help but laugh out loud,and sometimes cry.I really got into his journey and did not want the book to end!! Great read

  23. 4 out of 5

    Wanda

    I need more books like this in my life. There are many memoirs of those who "made it", but what about those that didn't? Loved this look into the unique perspective of someone who has been successful in finding their own happiness and goals.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alyssa

    I got really thrown by the timeline--something is fudged, and I think it's his age (which isn't in the memoir but he's listed as being born in 1989 from other sources and that doesn't add up--but Surendra's got a solid narrative going on.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sarnfield

    I was totally charmed by Rajiv...not just his obsession to become Pi, but his years working at Black Creek Pioneer Village, his time in Munich, and ultimately his calligraphy business. Even though I knew he didn’t get the role, I was rooting for him all the way.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Destiny Chan

    Loved this book! So refreshing reading a great story set in my hometown (Toronto and the GTA). Going into my first year of uni this year, it was so interesting hearing about Rajiv's experience and of course his travels to India, New York, and Munich!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Brooke's

    3.5 stars I haven't seen "Life of Pi", so I didn't really know how the story would end... I enjoyed the journey. It's cool how multi-faceted he is!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jeri

    Good memoir of actor trying to get role in Life of Pi.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jessica Jain

    This book is so utterly charming. I laughed, I cried, I sobbed. All the feelings.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Debs

    3.5 stars

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