My rating: 4 stars
Inspired by a real historical occurrence, A Viagem do Elefante by José Saramago (The Elephant’s Journey in the translation into English by Margaret Jull Costa) doesn’t have the most exciting and intricate of plots. It is still an engaging book, however. Some of its best assets are the many philosophical and social considerations about various topics, including hierarchical power, human behaviour, religious beliefs, and how fiction is written, which are all included in long, but harmonious, paragraphs.
Set in the 16th century, the book starts the moment King João III of Portugal tells his wife, Catarina from Austria, that he is not pleased with the gift they gave to her cousin, the Archduke Maximilian, for his marriage four years before. Seeing that he happens to be in Spain, the king wants to offer him something else. They agree that Salomão, their elephant from India, is the perfect gift.
The king then chooses a group of people to escort Salomão to Valladolid where the Archduke is staying for a while. Among them is Subhro, the elephant driver. Throughout their journey from Lisbon to the Spanish border, Subhro and the military commander, who is not a cruel man but wants his rank to be respected, have various conversations. One of them is about Christianity and Hinduism, which leads to a priest wanting to bless the elephant. It’s a funny moment, as he just uses water from a nearby well. Continue reading