Saturday, December 22, 2007

Seeing by Jose Saramago

Jose Saramago, who won the Nobel Prize in 1995, comes up with the weirdest story lines. All the Names tells the story of a bureaucrat whose life is dominated by the routines of his job in the office of birth, marriage, divorce, and death records. When his routine is broken, he spirals into some pretty bizarre behavior. The Stone Raft is about a crack that develops in the Pyrenees Mountains, and gradually widens until Spain and Portugal float off into the Atlantic Ocean. Blindness, a bit more conventional as a thinly veiled retelling of Albert Camus’ The Plague, has been followed by Seeing.

In this novel, 83% of the electorate in the same fictional country as Blindness have cast blank ballots. The police attempt to find out what is going on, and all they get are, pun intended, blank stares and stonewalling.

I would love to ask Saramago if this novel is an allegory for the Bush administration. The parallels are eerie and gave me another reason to keep reading to find more threads connecting the two. Paranoia, slippery slope logical fallacies, and obfuscating politicians are only some of the parallels.

His style is also peculiar. For example, one typical section break (he does not use chapters) begins with a single paragraph that runs on to 5 and a half pages in length. The sentences are enormous. Here is an example:

So, what did you find out. The question, as well as being superfluous, was, how can we put it, just the teeniest bit dishonest, firstly, because, when it comes down to it, everyone would have found out something, however irrelevant, secondly, because it was obvious that the person asking the question was taking advantage of the authority inherent in his position to shirk his duty, since it was up to him, in voice and in person, to initiate any exchange of information. (9)

Fourteen commas before we see a period. The only other markers in his sentences are capital letters, which indicate someone is speaking.

The last third of the book provides some comedy and some serious parallels to the Bush Administration. Several police officer are sent to the capital city with orders to prove a particular individual is guilty of the crime of fomenting the rebellion which resulted in the casting of the blank ballots. The government declares the investigation complete, and identifies the guilty party. Foregone conclusions, manipulation of the facts to suit that conclusion, and the manipulation of the press to further the agenda of the government. Sound familiar?

ANOTHER weird thing about Saramago is how he traps the reader. It almost becomes a game to stay with him, follow the huge strings of parenthetical statements, and understand what is going on in this strange city. You have to keep reading to play the game, to understand the game, and then to win the game. A win, I might add that is terrifically satisfying.

Together with Blindness, Seeing is an important book, Saramago is an important writer, and I completely understand the Swedish Academy awarding him the Nobel Prize for Literature. If you are a serious reader, this book MUST be on your TBR shelf. Five Stars
--Chiron, 12/23/07

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