The Elephant’s Journey by José Saramago

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How does an elephant travel from Portugal to Austria in the early 1550s? Slowly. Very slowly.

This novel is written by the Nobel prize winning Portuguese author and is quite the funny story about an Indian elephant (Solomon) who is given as a present by the Portuguese King and Queen to his cousin Miximillian, Archduke of Spain.

The elephant’s journey is long, slow but eventful.

The author writes with a lot of humor in his own, unique style. You notice quickly the lack of paragraphs in the text as well as the lack of punctuation. A simple comma separates dialogue and new sentences. A few periods are strewn here and there, marking a new paragraph.

I’ve only seen something similar once before in Virginia Woolf’s To The Lighthouse. I remember this novel very well, although I’ve never actually read it, because every time I picked it up, it made me fall asleep.

These run-on-sentences are certainly not a conventional way of writing, and although it works (it might take a while to get used to, and you might think it’s strange in the beginning, but soon enough your brain will make sense of it), it makes it a bit tough to hang on to the story. At least it makes it harder for me, as my mind tends to wander…

The story is definitely funniest in the beginning, and the Portuguese King is simply hilarious! Personally, I would’ve liked him to play a bigger part and not just be present in the first few chapters.

The author plays an active part in the story and is not just the storyteller “behind the scenes”, but one that obviously knows the ins and outs of the story offers a bit of foresight. It’s as if he’s looking both subjectively and objectively at the story, offering various explanations and comments directed at the reader to help make sense of the story…and also non-sense of it. There were a couple of times where I thought the author was going off on a complete side track, thinking to myself “what on earth is he talking about?” It may also just have been my own mind wandering off yet again.

The novel is quite entertaining, but luckily it’s not that long.

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