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The Elephant's Journey Paperback – 7 Jul 2011


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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (7 July 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099546884
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099546887
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 78,291 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

José Saramago was born in Portugal in 1922 and has been a full-time writer since 1979. His oeuvre embraces plays, poetry, short stories, non-fiction and novels, which have been translated into more than forty languages and have established him as the most influential Portuguese writer of his generation. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.

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Review

"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)

Book Description

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.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By T. Stroll on 5 Aug 2010
Format: Paperback
I read this in Portuguese, but I think my comments should apply to the English translation.

In this, his penultimate novel, the late José Saramago yet again managed to set aside strongly held left-wing political views to cast the novel in a genteel and amiable vein. Still, like Richard Harris's, Saramago's characters show universal character traits--vaingloriousness, hypocrisy, piety, etc.--that apply to the present day.

"The Elephant's Journey" takes place in the mid-16th century. Salomão the elephant has been languishing nearly forgotten in Lisbon for two years when it occurs to Dona Catarina of Austria, wife of the Portuguese king, Dom João III, to make him the royal couple's wedding present to Archduke Maximilian of Austria, Regent of Spain. The problem is getting Salomão from Lisbon to Vienna. How this is done is the subject of the novel, which amounts to a Chauceresque series of tales about the trip, including a pointless military standoff near the Spanish border, the working of a bogus miracle to enhance one faction's standing in a religious intrigue, and a harrowing trip over the Alps from the Alto Adige of northern Italy to the Austrian lowlands. There's nothing dramatic here, just an enjoyable narration with rather fewer of Saramago's philosophical ruminations than one finds on average in his novels. The most poignant line in the whole thing may be the dedication: "To Pilar, who did not let me die." (That's Saramago's Spanish wife, Pilar del Río.) Alas, ultimately she did not succeed; Saramago died on June 18, 2010.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER on 11 Dec 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a charming fictional account of an event that really happened: in 1551 King John III of Portugal sent the Archduke Maximilian of Austria a belated wedding present - an Indian elephant for which King John no longer had any use; and the novel gives an account of its journey which, for the most part has to be taken on foot: from Lisbon to Valladolid where the Archduke was staying at the time, then from there to Rosas on the Franco-Spanish border; then by sea to Genoa (how would a boat stand up to carrying a four-ton elephant?), and then again on foot to Mantua, Trent (where the Council of Trent is sitting just then and trying to roll back the Reformation), then, through snowstorms (it is winter) over the Alps and through the dangerous Isarco and Brenner passes to Innsbruck; then by boat to Linz, and the final stretch to Vienna once again by road.

In charge of the elephant is his humble Indian mahout, who has to obey his various masters - the King of Portugal, the Portuguese captain who heads the escort to the frontier, the Austrian captain who receives delivery there, and then the Archduke when the train left Valladolid for Vienna. Saramago pokes fun at all of these masters who are pompous in their different ways and at the different social hierarchies in 16th century Europe. Along the journey the elephant is a sensation for people who have never seen one; there is some mockery of religion, both Indian (think Ganesh) and Catholic; and there is a lovely episode when a priest gets the mahout to train the elephant to kneel in front of his church so that the people should believe in a miracle, with hilarious consequences.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Geoffrey Shrimpton on 28 Sep 2010
Format: Paperback
Despite a rather eccentric prose style that dispenses with quotation marks, most capital letters and (almost) paragraphs, this is a subtle and highly moral tale of mankind's relationship with both god and the natural world. One can learn a lot! But. then, the author intends you to.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Malcolm Howells on 21 Aug 2010
Format: Paperback
Elephant Salomão walks from Lisbon to Vienna in the sixteenth century, a journey that actually happened. A factual event is an opportunity for a fictional work through which human nature is analysed. Along the way everyone seeks meaning to what they do not understand and will see in Salomão what he really isn't.

I read this book in English and also had a look at the Portuguese original. In Portuguese you'll find Saramago's usual writing style, a grammatical construction and punctuation of his own. Margaret Jull Costa faced the challenge and produced a very successful translation.

At the end of his life, Saramago wrote yet another great book. Once I started, I couldn't stop reading it until I reached the last page. Thank you, Saramago.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Vineyard on 15 Jan 2011
Format: Paperback
This was an extremely entertaining tale using the elephant's historical journey from Lisbon to Vienna as a metaphor for life's journey. I found all the characters extremely engaging, not least the elephant himself: the novel itself is both literary and highly readable. The focus on the practical difficulties of crossing Europe with an elephant on foot and by sea pokes gentle fun at the machinations of kings, archdukes and emperors, and we are invited to meander over philosophical questions as the elephant lumbers on with his motley convoy.

The only thing I disliked about this book was that the translator chose to carry over the writer's original choice to dispense with capitalisation of proper names, and so on, in the English version. Conversations were punctuated only by commas, so that it occasionally made it difficult to sort out who was speaking. In the Portuguese original this will not have mattered so much to his readers: as Saramago is not particularly widely known in the English-speaking world I felt it did not serve him well in a work that is deservedly likely to bring him to a much wider audience. Conventional English norms could have been followed without losing the flavour of the authorial voice, and for this irritation I demote the book to four stars: an experiment that does not come off, in my view, and probably reinforces the average English-language reader's stereotype that much Continental literature is "tricksy". It need not be!
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