Monday, November 30, 2009


Seeing by Jose Saramago
Margaret Jull Costa (Translator)
Trade Paperback, 307 pages
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, English translation 2006
ISBN-13: 9780156032735

Synopsis from cover:

On election day in the capital, it is raining so hard that no one has bothered to come out to vote. The politicians are growing jittery. What's going on? Should they reschedule the elections for another day? Around three o'clock, the rain finally stops. Promptly at four, voters rush to the polling stations, as if they had been ordered to appear. But when the ballots are counted, more than 70 percent are blank. The citizens are rebellious. A state of emergency is declared. The president proposes that a wall be built around the city to contain the revolution. But are the authorities acting too precipitously? Or even blindly? The word evokes terrible memories of the plague of blindness that had hit the city four years before, and of the one woman who kept her sight. Could she be behind the blank ballots? Is she the organizer of a conspiracy against the state? A police superintendent is put on the case.

What begins as a satire on governments and the sometimes dubious efficacy of the democratic system turns into something far more sinister. A singular novel from the author of Blindness.

My Thoughts:

From the Nobel Prize winner author of Blindness, Seeing is a political satire that shows the hypocrisy and absurdity that can occur in democratic government bureaucracies after the people leave seventy percent of their election ballots blank. While I enjoyed Blindness even as I struggled through Saramago's writing style, I really struggled to finish Seeing. After awhile I was able to overlook the post-modern style in Blindness, but that was not the case in Seeing. I couldn't get into a reading rhythm or pace this time around, so, while I saw some brilliant mataphors and insights, I can't really recommend Seeing.

For those who have not read Saramago, his writing includes the absence of what is normally considered proper accepted punctuation, Dialogue is not set apart with any punctuation, with the exception of commas, and it is all in one long continuous sentence and paragraph, going on and on and all running together, It really became annoying after awhile because it was so hard to pick through the dialogue embedded within the huge ongoing paragraphs, See the quotes below for a sample of Saramago's writing style.
So-so for me


Terrible voting weather, remarked the presiding officer of polling station fourteen as he snapped shut his soaked umbrella and took off the raincoat that had proved of little use to him during the breathless forty-meter dash from the place where he had parked his car to the door through which, heart pounding, he had just appeared. I hope I’m not the last, he said to the secretary, who was standing slightly away from the door, safe from the sheets of rain which, caught by the wind, were drenching the floor. Your deputy hasn’t arrived yet, but we’ve still got plenty of time, said the secretary soothingly, With rain like this, it’ll be a feat in itself if we all manage to get here, said the presiding officer as they went into the room where the voting would take place. opening

The presiding officer stood up and invited the poll clerks and the three party representatives to follow him into the voting chamber, which was found to be free of anything that might sully the purity of the political choices to be made there during the day. This formality completed, they returned to their places to examine the electoral roll, which they found to be equally free of irregularities, lacunae or anything else of a suspicious nature. The solemn moment had arrived when the presiding officer uncovers and displays the ballot box to the voters so that they can certify that it is empty, and tomorrow, if necessary, bear witness to the fact that no criminal act has introduced into it, at dead of night, the false votes that would corrupt the free and sovereign political will of the people, and so that there would be no electoral shenanigans, as they’re so picturesquely known, and which, let us not forget, can be committed before, during or after the act, depending on the ­efficiency of the perpetrators and their accomplices and the opportunities available to them. The ballot box was empty, pure, ­immaculate, but there was not a single voter in the room to whom it could be shown. pg. 4

There were very few spoiled ballots and very few abstentions. All the others, more than seventy percent of the total votes cast, were blank. pg. 16

Putting on a grave face and speaking with great emphasis, he added that the government was sure that the capital's population, when called upon to vote again, would exercise their civic duty with the dignity and decorum they had always shown in the past, thus declaring null and void the regrettable event during which, for reasons that have yet to be clarified, but into which investigations are already fairly well advanced, the usual clear judgement of the city's electorate had become unexpectedly confused and distorted. pg. 19-20

No comments: