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Seeing, by Jose Saramago -- A Book Review

Updated on July 22, 2010
Image is in the public domain
Image is in the public domain

A democratic society allows its citizens to vote in order to affect the way the government is run and how their tax money is spent, as well as how much of that money is taken in the first place. The people in a democratic system have this right to vote…but apparently they don’t have the right to NOT vote. On a stormy day in the capital city, the inhabitants all come out to place their votes in carefully-prepared ballot boxes, a surprisingly good turnout for such bad weather, even if everyone DID wait until 4:00 to turn up at the polls. Voting officials are ecstatic – until the votes are counted, and 75% of the papers are blank. This sparks great panic in the government, resulting in waves of patriotic messages through all media outlets pleading with citizens to exercise their right to vote and offering a fresh voting opportunity so that the repentant populace can take part in the democratic process – where even more blank votes appear.

This story begins with an introduction to the political parties involved – the party on the right, the party on the left, and the party in the middle – with interactions between the officials before voters began to arrive on that stormy day. These conversations set the stage by giving readers a clear idea of the personalities of each of these parties…a fairly accurate personification, regardless of which democracy the reader may live in. The tale then proceeds into an absurd recollection of the repercussions associated with the mass casting of blank votes, including all the government propaganda, military measures, and subterfuge used to cajole the population back into conformity. Or is it really that absurd?

Portuguese author Jose Saramago received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998 for his hard-hitting tales of religion and politics which offer very frank, straightforward viewpoints into the workings of human societies. His book Seeing is certainly no exception, examining the workings of a “democratic government” which has been touted as fair and benign to the world – a designation that much of the population possibly finally begins to doubt. Parallels in the story can be drawn to a number of governments, not least notably the US government which proclaims “freedom for all” while occupying countries worldwide that do not voluntarily fall into lockstep with the form of government the more powerful nation feels should be used.

This is the first book I’d read by Jose Saramago, and in fact I’d never even heard of him – even with his recent death in June 2010 – until stumbling across his books on the library shelf with their simple titles and understated covers. The descriptions of his stories are fairly basic and give little idea what each is about, so I decided to give this book a chance out of pure curiosity about why this man got the Nobel Prize for his writing.

Possibly the biggest turn-off for most readers is the style used throughout the stories. Namely, Saramago uses almost no punctuation aside from commas and periods, and there are no paragraph breaks. Full conversations occur with only commas to denote which person is speaking, and a capital letter after the comma tells whether it really is another person speaking or just a naturally-occurring comma within a single person’s sentence. Periods come in only when an entire conversation or idea has been completed. While this style may make it difficult for some readers to get into the story, it is an effective device to encourage people to read entire thought processes before putting the book down at any given reading break.

The story presents itself as fairly simple, with a plot that takes quite a while to take off while the stage is set with ideas about the “status quo” in the country before events take their toll (a process which takes nearly half the book), then it picks up speed as events and their repercussions begin to pile up on each other until it takes quite a bit of attention to keep track of what all is happening and why.

Seeing is far from an empty-headed weekend read, but is ideal for someone who likes to think about what they’re reading and actually have some real substance to ponder. There are so many aspects of government and society being brought into play, and so many tie-ins to historical events (World War II comes to mind) where a country’s citizens discover all-too-clearly that they’re not entitled to everything the government says they’re entitled to. The stories come from a very Libertarian viewpoint (sources state that the author proclaimed himself a Libertarian Communist) proclaiming the corruption in big governments, as well as the power of community to conduct itself without the aid of an outside government if people can just work together.

Overall, this was an exceptionally intriguing read that will, no doubt, appeal to many who are frustrated with the current political climate of ever-growing government and the kind of power higher officials attempt to wield over those they’re supposed to serve. The only drawback is in the fairly dense writing style, but it’s certainly worth looking past that to find the merits of the book itself.


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    • wannabwestern profile image

      Carolyn Augustine 7 years ago from Iowa

      Hi Wychic, I enjoyed this well-written book review and love Jose Saramago's writing. He is one of my favorite authors, though I like Blindness the best. It is interesting how his book titles follow this perception theme. It is sad that such an amazing talent has already passed on but fortunately his ideas will continue to inspire and provoke thought in an unseeing world. I can see that I need to read more of your book reviews! Cheers!