‘The Elephant’ by Slawomir Mrożek, translated by Konrad Syrop

Slawomir Mrożek’s stories – or perhaps fables – are very short, and it is therefore difficult to pick a favourite, but ‘The Elephant’ is an excellent place to start. A satire of Communist Poland, it is just as easy to find its targets across the globe today. In the story the Director of a zoo, to save money and ingratiate himself with those above, refuses the funds to acquire an elephant and decides instead to make one much more cheaply out of rubber. The workers charged with inflating it quickly tire and have the ingenious idea of using a gas pipe to blow it up instead, with predictable consequences. My favourite detail, however, is the sign placed outside the elephant enclosure in preparation: “Particularly sluggish. Hardly moves.”

First published in Polish in 1958, and in English in The Elephant, MacDonald, 1962. Also available in Penguin Modern Classics, 2010

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