Nobel prizewinner Saramago always has something new up his sleeve: this time he has written a delightful historical fable about an Indian elephant called Solomon, who, in obedience to the absurd caprice of a sixteenth-century monarch, travels from Lisbon to Vienna to become a wedding gift for an emperor.
Solomon the elephant’s life is about to be upturned. For two years he has been in Lisbon, brought from the Portuguese colonies in India. Now King Dom João III wishes to make him a wedding gift for the Hapsburg archduke, Maximilian. It’s a nice idea, since it avoids the Portuguese king offending his Lutheran cousin with an overtly Catholic present. But it means the poor pachyderm must travel from Lisbon to Vienna on foot – the only option when transporting a large animal such a long way. So begins a journey that will take the stalwart Solomon across the dusty plains of Castile, over the sea to Genoa and up to northern Italy where, like Hannibal’s elephants before him, he must cross the snowy Alps. Accompanying him is his quiet keeper, Subhro, who watches while – at every place they stop – people try to turn Solomon into something he is not. From worker of holy miracles to umbrella stand, the unassuming elephant suffers the many attempts of humans to impose meaning on what they don’t understand.
Saramago’s latest novel is an enchanting mix of fact (an Indian elephant really did make this journey in 1551), fable and fantasy. Filled with wonderful landscapes and local colour, peppered with witty reflection on human failings and achievements, it is, in the end, about the journey of life itself.
“It is extremely funny. Old Saramago writes with a masterfully light hand, and the humour is tender, a mockery so tempered by patience and pity that the sting is gone though the wit remains vital... a series of contained miracles of absurdity, quiet laughter rising out of a profound, resigned, affectionate wisdom”
Ursula K Le Guin, Guardian
“The novel has a charming fairy tale quality, with its kings and courtiers, it pachyderm protagonist and his mysterious mahout: this is amoung the most charming of Saramago's works”
Michael Kerrigan, Times Literary Supplement
“The Elephant's Journey is well worth picking up”
Syndicated review to local papers
“José Saramango wrote his final book with great panache”
Margaret Reynolds, The Times
“Saramago enjoys filling out the details with improvisatory skill and imagination”
John Spurling, Sunday Times
“It's an epic ramble that the Nobel Prize-winning author saw as a metaphor for life”
“Here he has seized the opportunity to turn an unlikely tale of a transalpine hike into something far larger even than its elephantine subject.”
Amanda Hopkinson, Independent
“A playful, intellectual, very European novel, at times if feels reminiscent of Kafka in his lighter moments”
Independent on Sunday
“Here is a book as serious as it is charming; amid its ironies runs a sustained pleas for the subversive workings of the imagination: "every elephant contains two elephants, one who learns what he's being taught and another who insists on ignoring it all". Thank goodness for that'”
“In laconic prose, Saramago skilfully builds a journey of delicious digressions that set up resonances from Miguel de Cervantes' picaresque chivalries to Czech humorist Jaroslav Hasek's pigeon - fancying soldier Schweik - all delivered with a jocular pedantry that satirises pomp and grand designs'”