Themes in Saramago's work:
Taking us on a journey is what Saramago does best; there is a lot of travelling in his books. In The Stone Raft, we cross the Iberian peninsula in all directions with the five main characters, and the Iberian peninsula itself takes us with it on a Journey over the Atlantic Ocean. In The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, we arrive in Portugal from Brazil, and Ricardo Reis takes us on a pilgrimage to Fatima. Baltasar and Blimunda travel up and down from Lisbon to Mafra, a priest takes us on a trip in his flying machine, and there is the enormous stone that had to be transported from Pêro Pinheiro to Mafra.
In The Elephant Journey, it is the elephant that takes us from Lisbon to Vienna, through Portugal, Spain and France, and across the Alps.
Death is a recurring theme in Saramago’s novels. In Death with Interuptions, Death herself (death is female in Portuguese) plays a major role. In All the Names, Saramago seems to tell us that there should not be such a strict separation between the death and the living, as the memories of those who died continue to live among us. In The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, the ghost of Fernando Pessoa lives on for nine months, the same amount of time that it takes for a human baby to grow in its mother’s womb.
The human condition
Saramago liked to write about human nature at its best and at its worst, and how the everyday lives of the powerless, the normal people, are affected by the decisions of the powerful. He defended love as an instrument to improve the human condition.
Saramago must have loved dogs; he often lets his main characters find a stray dog and become good friends with it. There is no dog in The Elephant’s Journey (as far as I can remember, it has been a while since I read the novel), but here it is the elephant playing a central role. Throughout his long trip, the elephant tries to please Subhro, his caretaker, and their emotional bond is one of the book’s many delights.
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