SARAMAGO, José. Nobel laureate writer on history & unanswered inquiry: "because he wouldn’t know or because he doesn’t want to"

José Saramago (16 November 1922 – 18 June 2010) was a Nobel-laureate Portuguese novelist, poet, playwright and journalist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.  More than two million copies of his books have been sold and they have been translated into 25 languages. An atheist and communist, he founded the National Front for the Defence of Culture (Lisbon, 1992). A recent book was “The Elephant’s Journey” (2008) (see: ).


José Saramago in “The Elephant’s Journey” (2008) that recounts the journey from Lisbon to Vienna of an Indian elephant Solomon that had been gifted by the Catholic King of Portugal to his Lutheran cousin Habsburg Archduke Maximilian as a wedding present. Solomon and his Indian mahout Subhro are to farewell the lined up porters at the Spanish border:   “Subhro then spoke again to explain that solomon would stop in front of each of them and that they should then hold out their tight hand, palm uppermost, and wait for Solomon to say goodbye. And don’t be afraid, solomon is sad, but he’s not angry, he’d grown used to you and has only just found out that you’re leaving. How did he find out, That’s one of those questions not even worth asking , if you were to ask him directly, he probably wouldn’t answer. Is that because he wouldn’t know or because he doesn’t want to, In solomon’s mind, not wanting and not knowing form part of a much larger question we all need to ask, both elephants and men. Subhro  immediately felt that he had just said something stupid, a remark that deserved a place of honour on the list of platitudes, Fortunately, he murmured, as he walked off to fetch the elephant, no one had understood , that’s one good thing about ignorance, it protects us from false knowledge.” [1].

José Saramago in “The Elephant’s Journey” (2008)on the journey of the elephant through the Isarco Pass (and thence the Brenner Pass) in winter and on history: "It's hard to understand why the archduke maximillian should have decided to make such a journey at this time of year, but that is how it's set down in history, as an incontrovertible fact, documented fact, supported by historians and confirmed by the novelist, who must be forgiven for taking certain liberties with names, not only because it is his right to invent, but also because he had to fill in certain gaps so that the sacred coherence of the story was not lost. It must be said that history is always selective, and discriminatory too, selecting from life only what society deems to be historical and scorning the rest, which is precisely where we might find the true explanation of facts, of things, of wretched reality itself. In truth, I say to you, it is better to be a novelist, a fiction writer, a liar. Or a mahout, despite the hare-brained fantasies to which , either by birth or by profession, they seem to be prone." [2].


[1]. José Saramago, “The Elephant’s Journey” (2008), Harvill Secker, London, 2008, pp86-87.

[2]. José Saramago, “The Elephant’s Journey” (2008), Harvill Secker, London, 2008, p171.