Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New Today: The Elephant’s Journey by José Saramago

Because The Elephant’s Journey (Mariner) is being published posthumously, it seems all the more special; all the more bittersweet.

Portuguese author, José Saramago, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998, was prolific and beloved. Over two million copies of his various books are in print, but he is perhaps best known for the novels Blindness, All the Names and Death With Interruptions. He died just under a year ago at the age of 87.

For those of us who enjoyed Saramago’s work during his lifetime, The Elephant’s Journey seems a fitting good-bye. Slender, magical, charming and thoughtful, in some ways, the book is like a fairytale for adults. As with a fairytale, we are being told things beyond what we see and, even if -- like me -- you’re never really sure what those things might be, it’s a wonderful journey.

In this case, it really is all about the journey. In 16th century Portugal, King Joao comes to the realization that he was neglectful of his nephew, Archduke Maximilian of Austria, by not giving him a wedding gift. As it turns out, the King has an elephant, Solomon, that he hasn’t been paying much attention to. He instructs that Solomon be given a good cleaning, gets the elephant’s keeper, Subhro, some new duds, then sends the two of them off with a royal guard and a motley entourage on a mad journey from Lisbon to Vienna.

The Elephant’s Journey is enchanting. It is lighter than most of Saramago’s novels; a sweet and easy read. For all of that it is no less thoughtful and insightful than what we’re used to from this author. All in all, a fitting way to say good-bye. ◊

Linda L. Richards is editor of January Magazine and the author of several books.



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