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In the mid-16th century, the king of Portugal presented Austrian Archduke Maximilian with an elephant named Solomon as a wedding present, and historians celebrated Solomon's improbable and uncertain journey across the Mediterranean and through the Alps. Using the historical account as the skeleton of the plot, late Nobel Prize winner Saramago (Blindness) peoples his story with an archduke impatient to get the elephant home to his bride; an elephant keeper whose affection for and devotion to Solomon exceeds his love for humans; and, of course, Solomon, who is credited with performing at least two miracles on his journey and possesses more patience, love, and wisdom than any of his human counterparts. In a truly touching description of Solomon's sea journey, the narrator discloses that Solomon can happily face the fiercest of headwinds, close-hauling with all the elegance and dexterity of a first-class pilot. Solomon's entrance into Vienna is heart-rending and momentous, reminding us of the nobility of which animals are capable and of which humans often lose sight. Verdict While Saramago's tale veers into tedium now and then, it nevertheless firmly establishes the pachyderm in our hearts along with all the other great animal heroes in literature. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/10.]-Henry Carrigan Jr., Evanston, IL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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This charming tale of an elephant given by the 16th-century Portuguese king Joao III to the Archduke of Austria has much to recommend it, despite its being a minor work from the late Nobel laureate. Setting off with the elephant from Lisbon, the elephant's Indian keeper becomes unlikely friends with an army commander on the sun-scorched road to Valladolid, where the archduke awaits. The group encounters an Iberian peninsula in the intermediate stages of state formation and in the clutches of the Inquisition, as well as villages full of people delighted and frightened by the legendary beast. Saramago skillfully evokes the era with period detail and the clashing cultures of the Iberians and the Ottomans, yet his attempts to imbue this pleasant yarn with heft fall short. In particular, his deliberate use of anachronisms and his frequent lapses into a coy, first-person-plural feel out of place, while his forays into the Hindu religion and folktales read largely ornamental. By Saramago (Blindness) standards, this is a fun if unlikely jaunt. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
*Starred Review* The internationally respected Portuguese winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature died on June 18, 2010; this novel is being published posthumously. A novel with a greatly heroic main character certainly is not uncommon; however, when an elephant is playing that role, the novel can be considered unique, especially because it is based on an actual event. In 1551, King Joao of Portugal makes a startling diplomatic move by giving Archduke Maximilian of Austria the elephant housed on Portuguese royal grounds. The problem is that the elephant needs to be transported from Lisbon to Vienna. Because the era is pre-jumbo jet and Vienna is not a seaport, Solomon the elephant must walk! Solomon's trek across Europe, across mountains and rivers, accompanied by his Hindu keeper and a host of other retainers and attendants, is followed in this extremely amusing, historically resonant, fablelike, and technically challenging narrative. The astonishment that Solomon arouses en route is summed up in one person's reaction: Well, it isn't every day that an elephant appears in our lives. Solomon shows quiet heroism yet is never anthropomorphized: Despite his poor sight, he shot them a stern glance, making it clear that he was not some fairground animal, but an honest worker who had been deprived of his job by unfortunate circumstances too complicated to go into, and had, so to speak, been forced to accept public charity. --Hooper, Brad Copyright 2010 Booklist