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The Elephant's Journey Paperback – 5 Aug 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harvill Secker (5 Aug. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846553601
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846553608
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 1.6 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 651,970 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.

Product Description


'the novel has a charming fairy-tale quality...this is among the most charming of Saramago's works.' --TLS

'It is extremely funny. Old Saramago writes with a masterfully light hand, and the humour is tender' --Guardian

'a series of contained miracles of absurdity, quiet laughter rising out of a profound, resigned, affectionate wisdom.'

José Saramango wrote his final book with great panache.
--The Times

'Saramago enjoys filling out the details with improvisatory skill and imagination' --The Sunday Times

"Saramago enjoys filling out the details with improvisatory skill and imagination" --The Sunday Times

`...he has seized the opportunity to turn an unlikely tale...into something far larger even than its elephantine subject.' -- Independent

"It's an epic ramble that the Nobel Prize-winning author saw as a metaphor for life"
--Time Out

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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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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Cameron-Smith TOP 500 REVIEWER on 4 Dec. 2010
Format: Hardcover
In 1551, King João III of Portugal gave the Archduke Maximilian of Austria an unusual wedding present: an elephant named Solomon. The elephant's journey from Lisbon to Vienna was witnessed and remarked on by ordinary people as well as by scholars and historians. From this, José Saramago has crafted a delightful short novel.

Solomon and his keeper, Subhro, have been living a dismal existence forgotten in a corner of the palace grounds. When King João and his queen decide that the elephant would be an appropriate wedding gift, Subhro is given two new suits of clothes and Solomon an overdue scrub.

Solomon and Subhro travel together on foot from Lisbon to Valladolid, to Catalonia, by sea to Genoa, on to Venice, over the Alps, arriving at Innsbruck on the feast day of Epiphany in 1552, before continuing by barge down the rivers Inn and Danube toward Vienna. For part of the journey, they are accompanied by the Archduke, his new wife and the royal guard. The Archduke renames Subhro `Fritz' and Solomon proves himself to be a natural sailor. Together, the party traverses a continent dived by both the Reformation and civil wars. They travel through the cities of Northern Italy, including Trento where the Council of Trent is in session. They travel at an unhurried pace, largely dictated by Solomon. And wherever they go, they encounter people with various interpretations of the sudden appearance of an elephant in their lives.

`Like magicians, elephants have their secrets.'

One of my favourite passages involves Subhro discussing religion with the Portuguese captain. The discussion is overheard by peasants from a nearby village who, following what they have heard come to a conclusion which they share with their priest: `God is an elephant, father.
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