Ursula K Le Guin Reviews The Elephant’s Journey by José Saramago

I first began reading Saramago in 1999, a year after he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. His writing was like nothing I had read before– erudite, playful, inventive, challenging, sometimes maddeningly discursive, but always humane, always compassionate. I read the rest of his novels as quickly as I could obtain them and was looking forward to the release of The Elephant’s Journey in 2010.

Earlier this summer, I was at Pacific University when I learned that José Saramago had died. It was surprising how much this news disconcerted me, as if I had learned a favorite uncle had died. Two days later I was having coffee with one of the faculty when, assuming she had heard the news, I noted Saramago’s death. She had not heard the news and her initial reaction was much like mine. We sat together for awhile saying nothing, an odd but comforting moment, two people reflecting on the loss of someone neither had met but that each felt they knew.

via The Guardian:

The Elephant’s Journey by José Saramago

“The past is an immense area of stony ground that many people would like to drive across as if it were a motorway, while others move patiently from stone to stone, lifting each one because they need to know what lies beneath. Sometimes scorpions crawl out or centipedes, fat white caterpillars or ripe chrysalises, but it’s not impossible that, at least once, an elephant might appear. . .”

When he died last month, the man who wrote those words in The Elephant’s Journey, José Saramago, was an old man, 87 years old. His preoccupations and politics and passions might seem to belong to a past age: a diehard communist impatient of dictators, subversive of orthodoxies, disrespectful of international corporations, peasant-born in a marginal country and identifying himself always with the powerless, a radical who lived on into an age when even liberals are spoken of as leftist . . . But the still more intransigent radicalism of his art makes it impossible to dismiss him from the busy chatrooms of the present. He got ahead of us; he is ahead of us. His work belongs to our future. I take comfort in this. As we patiently lift stones in the endless fields of modern literature, we must expect scorpions and grubs, but it is now certain that, at least once, an elephant has appeared.

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