three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
23-July-Aug-2006
user_rating: 
0

A-SeeingWhat if they gave an election and no one voted? That’s the question 1998 Nobel Laureate for Literature Saramago explores in his latest effort, part social commentary, part detective story. In an unnamed country populated by unnamed inhabitants (all the better to frame the allegory), two successive elections in the capital city reveal the same surprising outcome: 83 percent of the cast ballots are blank. Government officials, angered by such an ironic affront to democracy, declare a state of emergency and attempt to ferret out the guilty parties by spying on and interrogating the capital’s inhabitants. One more surprise: When the politicos leave town, expecting the capital to collapse, the state continues to operate just fine without them.
Harcourt. 320 pages. $25. ISBN: 0151012385

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"Compelling as it is, Seeing can be a challenging read. … But [the book’s challenges] pale in comparison to the intelligent glow of this ambitious novel." Scott Stephens

San Antonio Exp-News 4 of 5 Stars
"Readers unfamiliar with Saramago’s style may quickly lose patience with his paragraphs that run on for pages and pages with stingy use of punctuation marks. … But tolerance and persistence (and a blind eye toward sentence structure) are rewarded with a searing work that only cements Saramago’s reputation as a magnificent writer who continues to earn his Nobel with each word he puts on paper." Vincent Bosquez

Baltimore Sun 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Some critics will contend that, at 84, Saramago is losing his touch. But away from the rhetoric of the government ministers, Saramago’s prose takes on its customary iridescence in describing the ordinary." Judith Redding

San Diego Union-Tribune 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Saramago effectively captures the Kafka-like surrealism and commotion in much the same manner as his earlier book, not just in allegorical substance but in accumulative style, wherein the stream of run-on paragraphs and unpunctuated dialogue adds to the sense of chaos. … [But the] perplexed reader is left hanging." Gordon Hauptfleisch

NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"Although Seeing is full of cleverly constructed satiric set pieces … the magisterial sarcasm of the narrator’s manner is, not to put too fine a point on it, awfully tiresome. Readers might, in fact, be inspired by the novel to exercise some passive resistance of their own: to decline, that is, to go on with a story whose outcome seems somehow predetermined, even rigged." Terrence Rafferty

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 1.5 of 5 Stars
"José Saramago’s presumptive sequel to Blindness (1998) is the unfortunately tedious Seeing. … What might have been an effective short story or engaging novella is stretched to tedious lengths to make points that are evident from the beginning." Robert Allen Papinchak

Critical Summary

The same dense, relentless style that has won Portuguese writer Saramago accolades throughout a long career meets with some ambivalence in Seeing, a sequel to Blindness (1998). In the manner of that earlier novel, Seeing combines the author’s trademark verbal convolutions with an allegory of power and politics. Some critics argue that the novel’s allegorical plot misses the mark or simply falls flat; most, however, recognize the octogenarian’s skill as a satirist and cultural critic. Saramago’s work has been compared to that of J. M. Coetzee, James Joyce, and Marcel Proust, among others, for its ability to present big ideas in transcendent—albeit often difficult—prose. Few critics dispute the passion and depth of Saramago’s vision, even if several take issue with his politics.