The Elephant's Journey, Paperback
3 out of 5 (1 rating)


Solomon the elephant's life is about to be upturned.

For two years he has been in Lisbon, brought from the Portuguese colonies in India.

Now King Dom Joao III wishes to make him a wedding gift for the Hapsburg archduke, Maximilian.

It's a nice idea, since it avoids the Portuguese king offending his Lutheran cousin with an overtly Catholic present.

But it means the poor pachyderm must travel from Lisbon to Vienna on foot - the only option when transporting a large animal such a long way.

So begins a journey that will take the stalwart Solomon across the dusty plains of Castile, over the sea to Genoa and up to northern Italy where, like Hannibal's elephants before him, he must cross the snowy Alps.

Accompanying him is his quiet keeper, Subhro, who watches while - at every place they stop - people try to turn Solomon into something he is not.

From worker of holy miracles to umbrella stand, the unassuming elephant suffers the many attempts of humans to impose meaning on what they don't understand.

Saramago's latest novel is an enchanting mix of fact (an Indian elephant really did make this journey in 1551), fable and fantasy. Filled with wonderful landscapes and local colour, peppered with witty reflection on human failings and achievements, it is, in the end, about the journey of life itself.




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Worried that his wedding gift to his cousin four years ago might have been ‘unworthy’, King Dom Joao III resolves to send something more valuable and striking. Seizing on the opportunity to get rid of their Elephant, Solomon, who does nothing of note apart from eating and drinking, the King’s wife suggests they send the pachyderm. The King readily agrees, and so begins a journey that will see Solomon, his keeper Subhro and an entire entourage lead Solomon on a journey to his new destination that will take him across plains, seas and mountains.<br/><br/>I chose this book for my Book Club for two reasons. 1) because it would count towards Portugal for my World Challenge and 2) because I thought it would be a bit of a challenge! The writing style is very unusual – the author uses scant punctuation – very few capital letters, not even for nouns, no speech marks and commas for full-stops.<br/><br/>Once I got my head round this, it wasn’t a problem and I was surprised how quickly I adapted to the lack of punctuation! I found the story quite slow to start with, but once it picked up I did enjoy it. I’m not sure I will rush to read any more of his works though. <br/>