Mr Saramago’s Elephant

Over at The New York Times, I find that Jose Saramago’s coming out with a new novel, based on “the real-life epic journey of an Indian elephant from Lisbon to Vienna in the 16th century.”

I’m a fan, so I can’t wait. And on that note, I read a fine piece by David Brooks today on a subject that seems rather Saramagoesque. It’s based on a question asked by a commenter over at Marginal Revolution: “What would happen if a freak solar event sterilized the people on the half of the earth that happened to be facing the sun?”


Saramago’s themes still seem fantastic to us, but other fiction writers have to confront the relative bizarreness of reality itself. As Philip Roth wrote in 1961:

The American writer in the middle of the twentieth century has his hands full in trying to understand, describe, and then make credible much of American reality. It stupefies, it sickens, it infuriates, and finally it is even a kind of embarrassment to one’s own meager imagination. The actuality is continually outdoing our talents, and the culture tosses up figures almost daily that are the envy of any novelist.

That’s true of India certainly—and it means that writers here really can’t complain. They’re surrounded by fascinating stories, and it’s up to them to catch them from the ether and turn them into print.

(Roth link and quote via email from Sanjeev.)