The Elephant’s Journey by José Saramago (Translated by Margaret Jull Costa) - review by Miranda France

Miranda France

The Wisdom of Solomon

The Elephant’s Journey


Harvill Secker 197pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

His ideas are lucid, his humour winsome, but José Saramago is no easy read. Portugal’s greatest contemporary novelist began his writing career late, in his fifties, after working as a mechanic, and later in publishing and journalism. Nevertheless, by the time of his death in June, at the age of eighty-seven, he had managed to clock up nearly thirty novels, collections of poems and essays. In 1998, he won the Nobel Prize – despite opposition from the Vatican, which branded him ‘an unreconstructed communist’. Saramago’s final novel, Cain, has yet to be published in English. 

This, his penultimate, draws on a true story and irresistible premise: the gift in 1551 of an Asian elephant, from King João III of Portugal to the Habsburg Archduke Maximilian II. Historical accounts suggest that the Asian elephant – mischievously named Solomon after the Turkish sultan – was

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