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The Elephants Journey by José Saramago
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Aug 30, 12


One might expect that a journey of an elephant named Solomon during the 16th century to be full of endearing moments and in that the reader would be correct. But like the elephant trudging through the snowdrifts of the Alps the reader first must acclimatize to Saramago’s dense style which discards quotation marks, capitalization of names, indentations of paragraphs and meanders in a sort of stream of consciousness style of an elderly uncle. Now what was I saying? Oh we were talking about elephants and how endearing they are and wise as well and of course we expect even more when we are speaking of one named Solomon, how could we not imagine that this elephant would somehow be more wise than words as he journeys with his mahout named subhro, which means white.

But Subhro was hardly white when we first discover him in The Elephant’s Journey for he and Solomon had been forgotten by King Joao III and were dirty and tattered. So it is a relief to them that the king has remembered them and decided they will make a fitting wedding gift to Archduke Maximilian. They are guarded by the Portuguese army and followed by oxcarts full of supplies as they make their way from Portugal to the transfer to the Archduke in Valladolid, Spain before proceeding to Vienna.

Saramago’s writing is filled with wry humor and observation of the petty power struggles of those who hold the reins of countries and armies. When Solomon and Subhro first meet the Archduke their names are changed to Suleiman and Fritz.

This reader could not help but be entertained by Saramago’s wonderful wit and style. Here is an example which I was amused by:
“We hereby recognize that the somewhat disdainful, ironic tone that has slipped into these pages whenever we have had cause to speak of austria and its people was not only aggressive, but patently unfair. Not that this was our intention, but you know how it is with writing, one word often brings along another in its train simply because they sound good together, even if this means sacrificing respect for levity and ethics for aesthetics, if such solemn concepts are not out of place in a discourse such as this, and often to no one’s advantage either. it is in this and other ways, almost without our realizing it, that we make so many enemies in life”

Perhaps what shines most clearly in the book are the personalities of Subhro and Solomon. They really became familiar companions on this long journey across Europe.
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