Monday, October 11, 2010

The Elephant's Journey

Hi Flower!

True story, my friend. In 1551 King Dom Joao of Portugal came up with what he felt was a brilliant idea. He would re-gift his costly to keep elephant to his cousin the Habsburg Archduke Maximilian as a belated and extravagant wedding present. This will enable him to kill two birds with one stone, but how to get it here? Of course there is only one way, the elephant will have to walk from Lisbon to Vienna. That in the tiniest nutshell is The Elephant's Journey by Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago. You now know the story but not this magnificent novel.

The two main players in The Elephant's Journey are Solomon, the elephant and his Indian keeper Subhro. There are many other characters who wander in and out on this road trip to Vienna, all well defined and interesting but Solomon and Subhro lead the parade. This duo has already made the trek from India to Lisbon. Life in the court in Lisbon has been comfortable and quiet. There was a wealth of excitement at their arrival but after a few years Solomon is only a part of the landscape and Subhuro is a forgotten man in a hierarchy where he has no place. On the road to Vienna all that will change. Once again the two will be the exotic main attractions and our ambassadors to the 16th century world.

The Elephant's Journey is successful as an entertaining, enlightening novel and as a stylistic exercise. The storytelling is as light as air. There is a fairy tale quality to Saramago's imagining of Solomon and Subhuro's adventure. The story itself however is not bathed in one long loving glow. The standard victims of Saramago's ire and wit: the Catholic Church, politics and politicians, ignorance and brutality all get his brilliant attention but the tone of this novel is feather light. The book feels as though it was written all at once. There isn't any conversational punctuation to bring stops and starts to your reading. The thoughts and actions of the characters flow side by side with Saramago's editorialized history in one effortlessly enchanted breath.

Saramago has infused The Elephant's Journey with the verbal traditions of storytelling, the roundabout joys of intelligent conversation and his own spirited genius.

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