Synopses & Reviews
In 1551, King João III of Portugal gave Archduke Maximilian an unusual wedding present: an elephant named Solomon. The elephant's journey from Lisbon to Vienna was witnessed and remarked upon by scholars, historians, and ordinary people. Out of this material, José Saramago has spun a novel already heralded as a triumph of language, imagination, and humor” (El País
Solomon and his keeper, Subhro, begin in dismal conditions, forgotten in a corner of the palace grounds. When it occurs to the king and queen that an elephant would be an appropriate wedding gift, everyone rushes to get them ready: Subhro is given two new suits of clothes and Solomon a long overdue scrub.
Accompanied by the Archduke, his new wife, and the royal guard, our unlikely heroes traverse a continent riven by the Reformation and civil wars. They make their way through the storied cities of northern Italy: Genoa, Piacenza, Mantua, Verona, Venice, and Trento, where the Council of Trent is in session. They brave the Alps and the terrifying Isarco and Brenner Passes; they sail across the Mediterranean Sea and up the Inn River (elephants, it turns out, are natural sailors). At last they make their grand entry into the imperial city. The Elephant's Journey is a delightful, witty tale of friendship and adventure.
"This charming tale of an elephant given by the 16th-century Portuguese king João III to the Archduke of Austria has much to recommend it, despite its being a minor work from the late Nobel laureate. Setting off with the elephant from Lisbon, the elephant's Indian keeper becomes unlikely friends with an army commander on the sun-scorched road to Valladolid, where the archduke awaits. The group encounters an Iberian peninsula in the intermediate stages of state formation and in the clutches of the Inquisition, as well as villages full of people delighted and frightened by the legendary beast. Saramago skillfully evokes the era with period detail and the clashing cultures of the Iberians and the Ottomans, yet his attempts to imbue this pleasant yarn with heft fall short. In particular, his deliberate use of anachronisms and his frequent lapses into a coy, first-person-plural feel out of place, while his forays into the Hindu religion and folktales read largely ornamental. By Saramago (Blindness) standards, this is a fun if unlikely jaunt." Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
"[An] extremely amusing, historically resonant, fablelike, and technically challenging narrative." (Starred Review) Booklist
"Shortly after he began writing The Elephant's Journey
in 2007, Jose Saramago was stricken with pneumonia and would conclude the year hospitalized in Lanzarote with complications. A mere one day after his discharge the following January, he resumed work on the novel, completing it in August 2008. Hence the book's dedication: "For Pilar, who wouldn't let me die," a tribute to his wife (and translator of his works into Spanish). Saramago would go on to finish another novel (Cain
, to be published in English in 2011) before he passed away on the cusp of summer earlier this year at the age of 87." Jeremy Garber, Powells.com
(Read the entire Powells.com review
In 1551, King João III of Portugal gave Archduke Maximilian an unusual wedding present: an elephant named Solomon. The elephant's journey from Lisbon to Vienna was witnessed and remarked upon by scholars, historians, and ordinary people--and serves as the foundation for this witty tale of friendship and adventure.
The tale of an elephant named Solomon who travels through sixteenth century Europe, from Lisbon to Vienna.
About the Author
JOSÉ SARAMAGO (1922–2010) was the author of many novels, among them Blindness, All the Names, Baltasar and Blimunda, and The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. In 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
MARGARET JULL COSTA has established herself as the premier translator of Portuguese literature into English today.