The Elephant’s Journey

Hello readers, and welcome back again!

This week’s novel has been ‘The Elephant’s Journey’, by José Saramago, first published in Portuguese in 2008, then translated a couple of years later. It follows the movement of an elephant, Solomon, and his rider (or mahout) from Solomon’s ‘owner’, the Portuguese king, to the Archduke of Austria. The event supposedly took place in 1551 as a bit of political greasing. Whether it actually did or not hardly matters – Saramago capitalises on his charming way of manipulating history.

I’ve not read anything else by the author, but have noted his intense critical praise up until his recent death. Of his “subversive” plots [shamelessly quoted from Wikipedia], this is reportedly one of the more ‘fun’. I wonder whether some wider reading is needed from me here…

The reason I ask is because I’m not altogether satisfied with this little book. But let’s begin with the positives. Saramago’s story is undeniably charming, at least to begin. The kind, humorous tone complements the discursive sequence of events, which pass along smoothly, like sailing on a sea of honey [or something more poetic]. The characters are all subtly endeared to the reader without recourse to greatly dramatic events – we like them as a casual acquaintance, and we believe them.

Nevertheless, I cannot share entirely in this book’s high praise. For me, its wonderful lightness rendered it a little bit insipid – by the end of its 200 pages or so, I felt like I’d read a stream of nothings, rather than an over-arching, substantial arc. On top of this, the occasionally trite pop-corns of wisdom had me rolling my eyes towards its end – perhaps this is the cynic in me, or the fact that I whisked through it… I might return to it one day to find it actually is intensely meaningful. But I’m not sure.

While the book hardly had me riveted, it left a distinctly warm feeling in my consciousness, and I’m intrigued enough to read more of Saramago – I suppose that has to count for something!



Upcoming novel: ‘The Saga of Gosta Berling’, by Selma Lagerlof

Image: ‘The Elephant’s Journey’, Melissa Lotfy. 


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