Top positive review
21 people found this helpful
A genteel tale about one elephant's trip from Lisbon to Vienna
on 5 August 2010
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.