You could get one right if you infer the origin of this novel related to Juan Carlos de Borbón and his hunting story in Botswana in 2012, when he was still King of Spain. At that point, the image of royalty as that of Spanish citizens was damaged by all that transcendent photograph in which he posed next to a bloodless pachyderm, an absurdity difficult to justify even for the ladino defenders of the monarchy. The picture of a hunter with his prey had long ago ceased to please anyone other than the victim himself, a concept as anachronistic as the fact that there are still kings and queens in the world.
"The sanctuary of the elephants" is a fiction that tries to wash this and other insults to the African territory, its animals, its people and its land. In that sense, it is a politically correct work, which won the Azorín Prize for novels in Spain a few weeks ago, with the consequent hype that guarantees it the support of Editorial Planeta. Its author, Nativel Preciado, a journalist by trade, is a prolific writer, who has to her credit over twenty published books, in which she has dealt with biography, reporting and narrative. He has written, moreover, a work called "The face of the Bourbons", from 1975, in a fascicular edition and of apparent pedagogical conception.
Here, although he mentions the unfortunate episode of royal hunting, his condemnation extends the perimeter to the circles of economic power in the Iberian Peninsula, embodied by a group of abominable characters, with ill-gotten fortunes and hidden interests. This gallery of villains prepares at the beginning of the plot to make a trip to the exotic black continent, to Tanzania in particular, a nucleus of wild life and tempting mineral deposits.
Soon the story reaches the tone of an adventure novel as it would seem usual in a subject related to Africa, only guided by the voice of the narrator towards the fulfillment of an inevitable tragic outcome: of the eight protagonists only one will emerge ahead of the experience . The narration is then conducted along the lines of various genres, including romantic comedy and grotesque satire. The latter, perhaps, a condition not entirely attributable to the author.
Although, as seems logical, Preciado has little sympathy for his characters, the reader will suffer in them a certain lack of depth, the lack of a psychology that better substantiates the reasons why their presence in everyday Spanish life - and therefore their referential value - as the way in which they end up behaving within the plot and that is worth to consummate their fatal destiny. In this sense, the writer has recognized the allegorical character of the novel, an intention that ends up attenuating the critical potential of the work.
Although it is true that there is plausibility in the lack of depth of the bourgeoisie, in the proven tendency of its elements to reflective generalization, in the disinterest in the nuances of a reality that is usually alien, this does not mean that a good portraitist is exempt of delving into it to unravel more pedestrian features. The Madrid writer does it in this case with relative shyness, limiting her characterization only to the descriptive plane.
Two of the characters in the group, by the way, are Venezuelans and the national reader cannot help but notice with a certain irony the veiled contempt of the allusion: “Marcos and Elisabeth were upstarts. Theirs was even more difficult as they were marked by the overloaded aesthetics of Venezuelan customs ”. However, and no matter how tangible the reference may be - perhaps in the knowledge of the community that ended up settled in the Salamanca district, in Madrid - the need to make use of its origin remains pending, and the name of this marriage may have corresponded to a different one without major variations in the plot.
In what does stand out openly "The sanctuary of the elephants" is in the description of this Edenic abstraction that continues to be the African jungle for humanity, here from the perspective of an elite tourism, which manages to look at every detail in the foreground . It is evident that Preciado speaks of a world that he knows and for which he has decided admiration. The extracts in which he describes the exuberance of each landscape are remarkable, managing to convey the widest spectrum of readings, even those that are contradictory.
Beyond the mention of the geographical attractiveness, supported by the most formidable collection of elements from all known natural kingdoms (vegetable, animal and mineral), Nativel Preciado claims the value of a factor that has ended up being accessory in the eyes of the accidental tourist. : that of culture sprouted within the framework of this earthly paradise. The main contribution of the novel is in its intention to raise awareness through contact with a cosmos for now marginalized from the civilizing process. A somewhat obvious lesson for those who know how to open their senses to the spirits of the jungle.
The spirit of the African jungle in five novels
"The Heart of Darkness", Joseph Conrad (1899)
It tells of Marlow's journey across the Congo River in search of Kurtz, the head of an ivory farm who has apparently crossed the shadow line that separates good from evil and has indulged in the most terrible atrocities with pleasure.
"Memories of Africa ”, by Isak Dinesen (1937). Karen Blixen, a young Danish aristocrat, travels to Kenya to marry a cousin of hers, Baron Bror von Blixen. They both buy a coffee plantation, but the marriage fails soon after and, after the divorce, Karen faces the responsibility of exploiting the plantation alone. His love for an English adventurer, his daily and cordial contact with the natives and his fascination for the wild environment that surrounds him, make Africa his new home.
"Everything falls apart", Chinua Achebe (1958). Okonkwo is a great warrior, whose fame spreads throughout West Africa, but by accidentally killing a great man of his clan he is forced to atone for his guilt with the sacrifice of his stepson and exile. When he is finally able to return to his village, he finds it teeming with British missionaries and governors. His world is crumbling, and he can't help but rush into tragedy.
"A Finished Case", Graham Greene (1960). A white man takes refuge in a leper hospital in central Congo. It's Querry, nearly sixty years old, with a graying beard and a rumpled tropical suit. Little by little, the jungle and the characters around it - Dr. Colin, Father Paul, the leper Deo Gratias, the tormented Ritcher - will reveal to us the mystery of that silent man, a famous Catholic architect, who seeks redemption in land of missions.
"The forest of the pygmies", Isabel Allende (2004). Kate, Alexander and Nadia go on an adventure in Africa. Shortly after starting their expedition in Kenya, the protagonists will change the course of their trip to enter the swampy forests of Ngoubé, together with a Catholic missionary who claims to have lost all the members of his camp. There they discover a tribe of pygmies that reveals a harsh and surprising world of corruption, slavery, and poaching.