Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Elephant's Journey

Read 8/16/10 - 8/24/10
4 Stars - Strongly Recommended

Originally published in Jose Saramago's native language of Portuguese in 2008, The Elephant's Journey will be released in english September 9th, posthumously.

The idea for this novel came about when Jose Saramago and a university teacher went out to dinner at a restaurant called "The Elephant". He asked her about the history behind the wood carvings decorating the restaurants walls, and was informed of the sixteenth century journey from Lisbon to Vienna made by an elephant that once belonged to the Portuguese King Joao III. Sensing a story within that story, he began to construct the tale of Solomon the Elephant.

It saddened me a bit to be reading this novel, knowing that Saramago passed away mere weeks from it's American release. Though, it also felt like coming home, in a sense. It has been awhile since I've curled up with one of his novels, and beginning this one was like walking into the arms of a long lost friend.

Typical of his past work, Saramago pulls us into the story of Solomon by narrating through an unusual first person plural POV. His run-on sentences, lack of punctuation, and multi-paged paragraphs force you to concentrate on every word as you read from line to line, page to page, your eyes and your mind begging for a breath, yet at the same time, unwilling to stop and break up the rhythm.

Solomon and his human companion Subhro are given as a wedding gift to King Joao's cousin, the Archduke of Austria, Maxamillian. Forced to travel by foot, Solomon, Subhro, and a sizable crew of soliders, horses, oxen, and porters head out of Lisbon and cover unimaginable distances and territories to arrive upon the Archdukes homeland of Vienna.

While not an overly impressive topic, Saramago weaves a wonderful tale of friendship, trust, admiration, and survival. He has this impressive knack of turning mundane, every day sort of things into beautiful stories that are both tender and tough, frustrating and funny.

Leave it to Saramago to work religion and politics into his novel! Hidden very cleverly within the pages of the book, he addresses his feelings and opinions on christianity and war through his characters. I always look forward to seeing how he works those in.

Overall, while not my favorite Saramago (as nothing can compare to the bleak dystopian feel of Blindness, the dark claustrophobic tale The Cave, or the withdrawl of death in Death With Interruptions), it certainly deserves a read - not only by his fans, but by history lovers, elephant lovers, and travel lovers as well.

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