Seeing

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Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Cleveland Plain Dealer
Saramago's unsettling allegory of power and politics . . . stays with you long after the last page is turned.

—Scott Stephens

Slate
Saramago has a taste for alternative realities, for the use of fiction as a form of speculation.

—Michael Wood

Cleveland Plain Dealer - Scott Stephens
"Saramago's unsettling allegory of power and politics . . . stays with you long after the last page is turned."
Slate - Michael Wood
"Saramago has a taste for alternative realities, for the use of fiction as a form of speculation."
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR BLINDNESS
"A shattering work by a literary master."-THE BOSTON GLOBE

"Saramago is the most tender of writers . . . with a clear-eyed and compassionate acknowledgment of things as they are, and a quality that can only be termed wisdom. We should be grateful when it is handed to us in such generous measure."
-THE NEW YORK TIMES

Gustavo Perez Firmat
Although Saramago's dense, garrulous prose -- masterfully rendered in Margaret Jull Costa's translation -- may not be to everyone's taste, the clarity and compassion of his vision make Seeing worthy of its name and its author.
— The Washington Post
The New Yorker
Saramago’s sombre masterpiece “Blindness” had an almost mythic power, whereas his latest novel, a political satire set in the same nameless capital city, opens with more wit and less heart. When Election Day coincides with a terrible rainstorm, the government worries that no one will venture out to vote. This fear is unfounded, but the election results are even more alarming: seventy per cent of the city’s voters have cast a blank ballot. Saramago has enormous fun imagining the official acrobatics precipitated by this apparent vote of no confidence, and, as the political hypocrisies and bureaucratic absurdities multiply, the narrative hums with correspondences to current events. Initially, readers may miss the previous novel’s intensity of feeling, but this one’s lightness proves deceptive: for Saramago’s beleaguered citizens, even thoughts never uttered can be fatal, and everyone is guilty until otherwise notified.
Publishers Weekly
In Nobel Prize-winner Saramogo's best known novel, Blindness, an unnamed capital city experiences a devastating (although transient) epidemic of blindness that mysteriously spares one woman, an eye doctor's wife, who helps a blinded group survive until their sight returns. His new novel, set in the same capital city four years later, depicts a legal "revolution," when 83% of its citizens cast blank ballots in a national election. The president declares a state of siege, but even though soldiers cordon off the city, nothing affects the city's maddening cheerfulness. The president receives an anonymous letter revealing the case of the eye doctor's wife (she and the group she helped had kept her support secret), and the minister in charge of internal security sends undercover policemen to investigate her connection to the "blank" revolution. The allegorical blindness/sight framework is weak and obvious, and Saramago's capital city sometimes reminds one of Dr. Seuss's Whoville. Yet it works: as the novel establishes its figures (the pompous president, tremulous ministers and pantomime detectives), it acquires the momentum of a bedroom (here, cabinet) farce, baldly sending up EU politicos and major media editorialists. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"[A]nother invaluable gift from a matchless writer"
Library Journal
"Saramago’s clear eye for acknowledging things as they are barrages us with valuable insights suggesting that the dynamics of human governance are not as rational as we like to think"
Slate
"Saramago has a taste for alternative realities, for the use of fiction as a form of speculation."  —Michael Wood
Library Journal
Portuguese Nobel laureate Saramago satirizes government in this Kafkaesque parable bristling with sinister implications. On election day in the capital of an unspecified country, the rain keeps voters from the polls. Although the voters rush out to exercise their duty when the rain eventually stops, more than 70 percent of the ballots turn up blank once they have been counted. The usual clear judgment of the city's electorate has failed them, say government officials, who preposterously proceed to construct of this molehill a conspiratorial mountain. A state of emergency is declared, and the minister of defense, who has shirked his own military service, lobbies for a full-scale siege to isolate the source of the alleged sedition in order to launch a devastating counterattack. Saramago's clear eye for acknowledging things as they are barrages us with valuable insights suggesting that the dynamics of human governance are not as rational as we like to think. Highly recommended for fans of intellectual fiction. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/05.]-Jack Shreve, Allegany Coll. of Maryland, Cumberland Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Passive political defiance stirs up a whirlwind of intrigue, repression and bureaucratic insanity in the 1998 Nobel laureate's 12th translated novel. It's a partial sequel to Saramago's widely acclaimed 1998 novel Blindness, an allegory about a city's populace mysteriously stricken with, then released from an epidemic of white blindness. Here, the same unidentified city (undoubtedly Lisbon) incurs governmental wrath when, during a major election, 70 percent of those voting leave their ballots blank. This intriguing premise doubtless fictionalizes both Saramago's own eventual rejection of the Communist Party of which he had been a member for many years, and the highly publicized tax problems that led him to depart his native Portugal and live in the Canary Islands. In any case, this is a mordant satire that vividly communicates contempt for entrenched authority in all forms: in particular, a panicked administration that denounces dissent as treason, spies on its citizens (sound familiar?), eventually moves its capitol to another location, suspends civil liberties, organizes "counterterrorist" violence-and sends an assassin to take out the doctor's wife (in Blindness, the one character who didn't lose eyesight) suspected of masterminding "the blank vote movement" and "singled out for public execration as an enemy of her country and of her people." The spirit of George Orwell rises from these blistering pages-compulsively readable despite Saramago's fondness for sparse punctuation and lengthy run-on paragraphs. The general thrust is crystallized in deftly drawn generic characters: the befuddled republic's president, a power-hungry interior minister, a police superintendent who hopes againsthope to do the right thing and many other villains and victims, citizens and co-conspirators. And Saramago caps it with a devastating ironic ending. Very nearly equal to the magnificent Blindness: another invaluable gift from a matchless writer.
Chicago Tribune - Jack Fuller
"I have never read a novel that gets so many details of the political behavior that we for some reason insist on calling 'organized' so hilariously and grimly right."
Denver Post
We live in age when democracy is being touted as the panacea to the world's ills—and not just abroad. 'Seeing' suggests a more complicated scenario. It offers that democracy is welcome in our times: that is, so long as it produces the results those in power want.

—John Freeman

New York Observer
[A] searching, dry-witted, spot-on political parable ...

—Chris Lehmann

Chicago Tribune
I have never read a novel that gets so many details of the political behavior that we for some reason insist on calling 'organized' so hilariously and grimly right.

—Jack Fuller

Denver Post - John Freeman
"We live in age when democracy is being touted as the panacea to the world's ills—and not just abroad. 'Seeing' suggests a more complicated scenario. It offers that democracy is welcome in our times: that is, so long as it produces the results those in power want."
New York Observer - Chris Lehmann
"[A] searching, dry-witted, spot-on political parable ..."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780151012381
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 4/10/2006
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

JOSÉ SARAMAGO (1922–2010) was the author of many novels, among them Blindness, All the Names, Baltasar and Blimunda, and The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. In 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

MARGARET JULL COSTA has established herself as the premier translator of Portuguese literature into English today.

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Read an Excerpt

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. He greeted, first, the poll clerks who would act as scrutineers and then the party representatives and their deputies. He was careful to address exactly the same words to all of them, not allowing his face or tone of voice to betray any political and ideological leanings of his own. A presiding officer, even of an ordinary polling station like this, should, in all circumstances, be guided by the strictest sense of independence, he should, in short, always observe decorum.
 
        As well as the general dampness, which made an already oppressive atmosphere still muggier, for the room had only two narrow windows that looked out onto a courtyard which was gloomy even on sunny days, there was a sense of unease which, to use the vernacular expression, you could have cut with a knife. They should have postponed the elections, said the representative of the party in the middle, or the p.i.t.m., I mean, it’s been raining non-stop since yesterday, there are landslips and floods everywhere, the abstention rate this time around will go sky-high. The representative from the party on the right, or the p.o.t.r., nodded in agreement, but felt that his contribution to the conversation should be couched in the form of a cautious comment, Obviously, I wouldn’t want to underestimate the risk of that, but I do feel that our fellow citizens’ high sense of civic duty, which they have demonstrated before on so many occasions, is deserving of our every confidence, they are aware, indeed, acutely so, of the vital importance of these municipal elections for the future of the capital. Having each said their piece, the representative of the p.i.t.m. and the representative of the p.o.t.r. turned, with a half-sceptical, half-ironic air, to the representative of the party on the left, the p.o.t.l., curious to know what opinion he would come up with. At that precise moment, however, the presiding officer’s deputy burst into the room, dripping water everywhere, and, as one might expect, now that the cast of polling station officers was complete, the welcome he received was more than just cordial, it was positively enthusiastic. We therefore never heard the viewpoint of the representative of the p.o.t.l., although, on the basis of a few known antecedents, one can assume that he would, without fail, have taken a line of bright historical optimism, something like, The people who vote for my party are not the sort to let themselves be put off by a minor obstacle like this, they’re not the kind to stay at home just because of a few miserable drops of rain falling from the skies. It was not, however, a matter of a few miserable drops of rain, there were bucketfuls, jugfuls, whole niles, iguaçús and yangtses of the stuff, but faith, may it be eternally blessed, as well as removing mountains from the path of those who benefit from its influence, is capable of plunging into the most torrential of waters and emerging from them bone-dry.
         With the table now complete, with each officer in his or her allotted place, the presiding officer signed the official edict and asked the secretary to affix it, as required by law, outside the building, but the secretary, demonstrating a degree of basic common sense, pointed out that the piece of paper would not last even one minute on the wall outside, in two ticks the ink would have run and in three the wind would have carried it off. Put it inside, then, out of the rain, the law doesn’t say what to do in these circumstances, the main thing is that the edict should be pinned up where it can be seen. He asked his colleagues if they were in agreement, and they all said they were, with the proviso on the part of the representative of the p.o.t.r. that this decision should be recorded in the minutes in case they were ever challenged on the matter. When the secretary returned from his damp mission, the presiding officer asked him what it was like out there, and he replied with a wry shrug, Just the same, rain, rain, rain, Any voters out there, Not a sign. 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. Perhaps one of them is lost out there, battling with the torrents, enduring the whipping winds, clutching to his bosom the document that proves he is a fully enfranchised citizen, but, judging by the look of the sky right now, he’ll be a long time coming, if, that is, he doesn’t end up simply going home and leaving the fate of the city to those with a black car to drop them off at the door and pick them up again once the person in the back seat has fulfilled his or her civic duty.

Copyright © José Saramago and Editorial Caminho SA, Lisbon, 2004
English translation copyright © 2006 by Margaret Jull Costa
 
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,
including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.
 
Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the work should be mailed to the following address: Permissions Department,
Harcourt, Inc., 6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

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Sort by: Showing all of 18 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 26, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Seeing is believing!

    I enjoyed this book more than his first, Blindness, (although I did enjoy it except for the ending; kind of a let down after the build-up of the story). However, after reading Blindness, my curiosity made me want to read Seeing, and I'm glad I did. I think Saramago has a very ingenious style of writing, not to mention his unique story plots and characters. His stories are different and a nice read. I'm suggesting it for our next book club since we have already read Blindness. However, you do not need to read the first book to understand this story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2006

    Saramago satirizes politics

    In the 2004 presidential elections, 122 million people, 55.3 percent of the country¿s voting-age population, went to their local polling site to elect the next President of the United States. Of those who voted, only 50.8 percent marked their ballot for President Bush. While turnout was the highest since 1968, more than 78 million Americans who were eligible to vote stayed home on Election Day, which resulted in a Bush victory with just 30.8 percent of the total eligible voters electing him. Flipped around, almost 70 percent of the population eligible to vote did not vote for the man¿a self-described decider¿who holds their fate, and quite possible that of the world¿s, in the palm of his hand. This almost begs the question of what would happen if we held an election and no one came out to vote. Or what if there was another line on the ballot that read ¿none of the above?¿ Someone, of course, would be declared the president, but would he¿or she¿truly be the winner? Would the affairs of state end up in chaos? Could the populace survive? Jose Saramago, winner of the Noble Prize for Literature in 1998, satirizes politics and authority in an eerily similar scenario in his latest novel, ¿Seeing.¿ Set in the same city whose citizens mysteriously lost their sight in his best known work, ¿Blindness,¿ Seeing returns his unforgettable characters back into our consciousness in a tale which begins as a satire on government, the media and a country¿s political system, but turns more sinister with each turn of the page. Four years have passed since the nameless people, living in a nameless city, located in a nameless country (but long rumored to be that of Saramago¿s native country of Portugal), were plagued with blindness. It¿s now Election Day, and government officials and members of the three political parties are concerned as to who the people will select to lead them. A hard falling rain appears to keep every voter at home when the polls open and throughout the afternoon, leaving election officials concerned that no one will come out to vote. Suddenly, at 3 p.m., the rain stops, and precisely one hour later, voters rush to the polls¿all at once¿as if under some universal order to do so. Surprisingly, when the votes are counted, more than 70 percent of the ballots are blank. Government officials call for a second election to be held a week later. Luck appears to be with them on Election Day redux as a ¿golden sun blazing forth against a backdrop of crystalline blue¿ shines upon the city throughout the daylight hours. Voters head back to the polls¿not in a mad and unanimous rush like the week before¿but with each person heading out alone, diligently and with a true sense of purpose. That night, after the polls are closed and the votes are counted, government officials are perplexed to find that 83 percent of the ballots are blank. The election result traumatizes the government, and a state of emergency is declared. Could this be a return to the plague of blindness that gripped the city four years ago? Could the one woman who kept her sight during that period be behind the blank ballots? A police superintendent is assigned to investigate and what follows is a griping tale of government impudence that produces thought-provoking scenarios that make the book difficult to put down. That is, if you haven¿t given up reading the novel after turning just a few pages or browsing through it in the bookstore. Readers unfamiliar with Saramago¿s writing style may quickly lose patience with his paragraphs that run on for pages and pages with stingy use of punctuation marks. ¿Seeing¿ is a literary challenge, as are all of his works. But patience 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 Prize in Literature with each word he puts on paper.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 12, 2006

    Must read for socially conscientious individuals!

    In this well-woven story of a city that falls victim not only to its desire for clarity, but also to the dark functions of its government, Saramago reveals to the reader in an easy-flow narrative the faulty pilars on which our society may rest. An enlightening book that must be read to better understand its predecesor, Blindness.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2006

    Awe again

    It's never disapointed reading any Saramago's work. It may not be very stunning at the beginning, but as you move on it's getting more and more joyeous and you just fall into the labyrinth that's hard to pull your leg out again. The last few pages are mastery.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2006

    A Must Read

    The book was very difficult for me to get into at the beginning because the way the paragraphs were set up but WOW, once you get past the first few pages its hard to put this book down. THe only regret is once you finish reading this book you want to read his other book, Blindness, which seems to tie to this one.

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