The Elephant’s Journey by Jose Saramago

the-elephants-journey-saramagoAfter arriving in Lisbon, Solomon – he was an elephant – was immediately forgotten, living in a pen that became increasingly dirty after year by year. Fast forward a few years later, we have the king and the queen, trying to debate what to give the Archduke as a wedding gift. That was when the queen remembered Solomon and suggested to the king to give Solomon to the Archduke. The King agreed because it was a good idea after all.

Solomon was enjoying his nice peaceful life in Lisbon after a long journey from Goa, has now become a wedding present from the King of Portugal to the Archduke Maximilian. Giving an elephant to the Archduke was seen as a very symbolic move for the nation, as it’s not everyday a King would give someone an elephant as a wedding gift. Those symbolic ceremonies, where the King had to bring himself to visit the elephant in his pen and the Archduke Maximilian officially accepting the gift by changing Solomon’s name to Suleiman, (of course he’s still referred to as Solomon in the novel), Solomon needed to begin a really long journey from Lisbon to Vienna, where he had to travel on land and water.

Solomon–although described to be a very dirty elephant as some parts of the story–was also described to be an elephant who can feel, and knows about the people around him.  He is also described to be a very majestic creature, and as he  crossed he plains to Vienna, he found a lot of people who really looked up to him. This was because that most of the people that Solomon had encountered on his journey didn’t know what an elephant was, and had never seen an elephant before. With the addition with Solomon was coming with the king, Solomon received a lot of respect and fans.

There were a few speculations that Solomon knew the contents on a person’s heart. It was indicated in several parts of the novel, for example when Solomon was about to separate ways with certain soldiers, each people had to come up and touch his trunk. Without any reason whatsoever, there were some people who barely touched Solomon’s trunk, while other people who spent minutes together with the elephant. The elephant also seems to despise certain people, and display really affectionate gestures to some other people.

There was a situation in the middle of his journey where Solomon met with a priest, who had tried to exorcise the elephant, due to the fact that Solomon has become so popular, he was referred to as a God by the peasants who had met him on the road. Of course, the priest refused to agree, stating that God was in all his creatures, but none of the creature were God. The priests then proceeded to try to exorcise Solomon. However, instead of using the normal Holy Water used in exorcism, he used Latin-pig and unholy water. Solomon instinctively sensed this, and was although a very gentle creature most of the time, he kicked the priest.

“We are, more and more, our own defects and not our qualities

Solomon traveled together with his mahout, Subhro (who was later renamed by the archduke to become Fritz). Subhro had been Solomon’s mahout from the very start, even when Solomon had his first journey that brought him to Lisbon to become the King’s elephant. A mahout was someone who took care of the elephant, by giving him food, washing him, and sitting (riding) on the elephant when he walked. Subhro was described to be someone who although was very quiet, would not hesitate to give out commands when it came to telling others what Solomon needed.

Jose Saramago is well known for winning a Noble in the year 1994. He passed away back in 2010, at the age of 87, leaving behind a huge legacy in his wake. Jose Saramago was a Portuguese writer, and many of his works were centered on allegory which are basically literary devices. Other than the Elephant’s journey, I have read ‘The Gospel According to Jesus Christ’, which is another epic saga that Saramago had written.

In Jose Saramago’s signature style, this book was written in a continuous style, without any paragraphs or apostrophe marks. Although a slight difficult read, I find this book a really good read. It’s also a funny one, reading people’s reactions as Solomon passes them in his journey. Overall, I recommend people to read this book.


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