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.)
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The Portuguese winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize continues his cerebral yet enticing and exciting novels about the absurdities to be witnessed in contemporary society and politics. In a country obviously Portugal, in a situation Kafka would have complimented Saramago for creating, national elections are called; in the capital city, however, a strange occurrence baffles authorities. Early and driving rain keeps most people from the polls, and when skies clear later in the day, masses of people do indeed come out to vote; but, as it turns out, the vast majority of the ballots turned in are blank. What kind of insurrection is this? Each government minister, every party from Left to Right, is left to interpret what it means--and equally important, what is to be done? The government leaves the capital, and the city is basically plunged into siege conditions. With run-on paragraphs and dialogue, the author challenges readers to pay close attention; the appreciators of literary fiction who do so will find a clever, even sly, but also sobering exploration of when governments do and when they do not have reason to be paranoid. Brad Hooper
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