The critic James Wood wrote of Jose Saramago, who died June 18: “Jose Saramago was both an avant-gardist and a traditionalist. His long blocks of unbroken prose, lacking conventional markers like paragraph breaks and quotation marks, could look forbidding and modernist; but his frequent habit of handing over the narration in his novels to a kind of ‘village chorus’ and what seem like peasant simplicities, allowed Saramago great flexibility.”
Examiner has touted this writer at just about every chance that presented itself. His talents deserve a review here, and, happily, there’s more to come.”However incongruous it may seem . . .” are the opening words of “The Elephant’s Journey” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Jose Saramago. The story is scheduled for publication in English in 2010. Saramago has claimed it is not a novel, but literary fiction. He has typically said, “the soul needs literature like the mouth needs bread.” Albuquerque readers can expect publication by September.
Elizabeth Nash reported from Madrid for The Independent (London) more than a year ago that Portugal’s Nobel Literature had completed his latest work after recovering from failing health.
“The Elephant’s Journey” is based on the real-life epic journey of an Indian elephant named Solomon who traveled from Lisbon to Vienna in the 16th century.
The translation will be by Margaret Jull Costa, who has previously translated Saramago’s work as noted in Examiner’s report on “Death With Interruptions.” Prior to the English translation, the story was scheduled to appear in Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan.
He had recovered in health, and with renewed energies, Saramago reflected on the relationship between the writer and illness. “Can literature save your life?” he has asked. “Not as a medicine, but it is one of the richest springs from which the spirit can drink,” the Portuguese laureate replies. “Perhaps it can’t do great things for the body, but the soul needs literature like the mouth needs bread.”
Nash reported Saramago has been captivated by the tale for more than 10 years, ever since he made a visit to Austria and went to eat by chance in a Salzburg restaurant called The Elephant, the author says in a long email interview published in the Spanish press.
“The Elephant’s Journey” is filled with characters, some of them real historical figures, others anonymous fictional creations: “they are people the members of this traveling caravan encounter on their journey, and with whom they share perplexities, efforts and the harmonious joy of a roof over their heads.”
The tale begins with a real event, but the scarcity of historical details of what actually happened during that improbable pan-European odyssey forced the writer to exercise his imagination.
The work is a reflection on feelings of “compassionate solidarity,” according to Saramago’s published email from his home in the Canary Island of Lanzarote. The tale is filled with the irony, sarcasm and humor typical of Saramago, his Spanish wife and translator, Pilar del Rio, writes on the author’s website. The work follows the rules that the author sets for all his books, she adds. “Dialogues alternate with narrative to form a whole, which the reader has to sort out according to his or her own rhythm.”
His death June 18 brought to an end a great writer but his legacy may be “The Elephant’s Journey” according to those who’ve read the proofs.