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Seeing [Paperback]

Jose Saramago , Margaret Jull Costa
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

April 1 2007
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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From 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 © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
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. Read the first page
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5.0 out of 5 stars Sequel April 20 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Good delivery timing. Enjoyed this book as much as I did the first book. Was required reading for my daughters University course and she recommended it to me
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  41 reviews
32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another first-rate Saramago novel April 11 2006
By T. Stroll - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed "Seeing," Saramago's latest novel to be translated into English. This is a first-rate addition to the upper tier of his works.

*** Spoiler alert: the following paragraphs reveal a few elements of the plot. ***

In the Nov. 8, 2004, issue of "The American Conservative" magazine, the managing editor, Kara Hopkins, advocated not voting in the pending presidential election. "Silence is a profound expression," she argued, "and enough unraised voices eventually turn even the most partisan heads." "Elections," she contended, "maintain the illusion of opposing parties exchanging ideas rather than political animals competing for power. Selling voting as the ultimate expression of citizenship . . . legitimizes the process that keeps them in control and makes the public docile by enforcing the notion that we rule ourselves."

Whether or not one agrees with Hopkins, she offers a perspective that Saramago might endorse, to judge by "Seeing." In "Seeing," some 70 percent of the residents of the capital of an unnamed country turn in blank ballots in an election, refusing to vote for the Party of the Right, the Party of the Center, or the Party of the Left. The government, dominated by unsavory and unprincipled authoritarians, is horrified that the rituals of democracy have generated a challenge to the government's legitimacy and orders the election to be reheld. But the percentage of blank votes is higher than before.

The government's reaction, though often fumbling, is vicious and lethal. It uses various Orwellian techniques and, as it deems necessary, violence to punish the capital's residents and try to get them to appear to respect the available choices, regardless of their true feelings about the three parties.

This is a fable. It is not intended to be entirely realistic, and the reader must suspend disbelief at times. After all, a modern Western democracy ("Seeing" appears to take place in western Europe) that took Draconian measures against its citizens for refusing to vote would be subject to external pressure and would have to relent. And it would be unlikely to take such measures in the first place. Western democracies are famously tolerant of political dissent--for example, from 1993-1997 Canada tolerated having as the federal government's official opposition party the Bloc Quebecois, whose goal is to separate Quebec from the Canadian federation. But Saramago is so masterly a writer that he makes the implausible possible. The reader does soon ask, "Why would any government that observes the forms of democracy behave this way?" A plot twist that appears in the middle of the novel provides an answer.

In "Seeing," Saramago continues his charming dance with the Portuguese language (I read the book in Portuguese). He narrates events at a languid pace (and occasionally with deceptive calmness by bringing forth a horrible revelation only at the end of an otherwise disarmingly anodyne paragraph). And his characters speak a Portuguese more formal than would be found in much formal writing. People who spoke this way in real life would be seen as affected. But Saramago's use of the King's Portuguese doesn't come across as pretentious; rather, it's a celebration of the outer reaches of classic Portuguese. I often think that Saramago's goal is to restore a full-fledged type of Portuguese that is fading, perhaps thanks to an onslaught of televised Brazilian soap operas and the like. Like Shakespeare, whose facility with language and extraordinary vocabulary altered English forever, Saramago may succeed in elevating Portuguese to a language different from the form that preceded his literary career. That would have to be the supreme achievement of any writer of literature.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Is Seeing Any Less Blind? May 29 2006
By Jon Linden - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In this sequel to Saramago's Nobel winning book "Blindness" the reader is presented with an almost opposite situation. Saramago's books, are political metaphors and commentaries which look deeply into the human spirit and soul.

In his first book, the author helps the reader understand how a world would look if all social stability and government broke down and the populace was left blind and helpless. The picture is very ugly and very painful. Yet, it has a realism that can not be ignored.

"Seeing" asks an instrumental operative question: "Are those who see, less blind than those who don't?" Here Saramago again creates a sociological and political microcosm to illustrate his points. There are many points he makes, but one of his central ones is that citizens can be recognized by "standing up and refusing to be counted." This act seems to those in control as a giant insurrection. Additionally, when people spontaneously choose to make such a statement; what should the government do about it? And they can make it unilaterally, without a movement or a leader, per se.

Saramago also gives the reader an interesting and experimental writing style. He dispenses with much normal grammar, yet rarely does this impede the reader's ability to glean complete understanding, or close to it, of what is happening in the story. Novelistically, the book is extremely well written and engaging.

In many senses, Saramago conveys his feeling that people, events and beliefs can be manipulated. But they can only be manipulated so far. If Saramago is speaking of any specific country, he takes care not to reveal it. He almost jests that he is talking about Portugal, but indicates that this is clearly just to give substance to the contentions of his story, to ground the reader in some basis of mundane reality. Perhaps one imposes the concept on whatever country they live it, because the points Saramago is making are universal. The government can influence the way things happen, how they appear, what is believed and what becomes history. They do have the power to do that, but they do not have the power to control the electorate. And if and when they take things too far, the electorate can stand up and be counted. Change is just around the corner in all Democratic Countries.

This book is recommended to all who want to see the kinds of things that Governments can do when motivated to do so. It is a very educational and impressive book. It is recommended to all people of voting age.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Don't think of it as a sequel, review by 17-year old June 26 2009
By rw - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I enjoyed Blindness, and expected Seeing to be made of the same material: lyrical, nerve-wrecking, bewildering. Like its precursor, Seeing juxtaposes witty dialogue with somber lines that evoke reflection, but in other respects the two books are dissimilar. Seeing is nearly as compelling as Blindness, but it's funnier, and with less real substance-- less happens.

I'd suggest readers to think of Seeing not as a sequel to Blindness, though obviously the two books are related, but as a stand-alone book in the same universe. This way, they won't have any unfair expectations; this way, they can appreciate Seeing as a humorous companion to Blindness, and not get caught up in the second book's relative lack of depth and hasty resolution. After all, one can hardly criticize the author for keeping his style fresh.
19 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brilliant Parable of Democracy Delivered at Gun Point April 2 2006
By Steve Koss - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In the unnamed capital city of an unidentified democratic country, election day morning is marred by torrential rains. Voter turnout is disturbingly low, but the weather breaks by midafternoon and the population heads en masse to their voting stations. The government's relief is short-lived, however, when vote counting reveals that over 70% of the ballots cast in the capital have been left blank. Baffled by this apparent civic lapse, the government gives the citizenry a chance to make amends just one week later with another election day. The results are worse: now 83% of the ballots are blank. The two major political parties - the ruling party of the right (p.o.t.r.) and their chief adversary, the party of the middle (p.o.t.m.) - are in a panic, while the haplessly marginalized party of the left (p.o.t.l.) produces an analysis claiming that the blank ballots are essentially a vote for their progressive agenda. Is this an organized conspiracy to overthrow not just the ruling government but the entire democratic system? If so, who is behind it, and how did they manage to organize hundreds of thousands of people into such subversion without being noticed? When asked how they voted, ordinary citizens simply respond that such information is private, and besides, is not leaving the ballot blank their right?

Thus begins Jose Saramago's brilliant new book, SEEING. The setting is the same unnamed country where, four years earlier, a plague of contagious but temporary "white blindness" afflicted first the capital city, then spread throughout the country. The resulting breakdown of civic institutions and reversion of life to the basest instincts for control and survival were magnificently chronicled in Saramago's earlier novel, BLINDNESS, undoubtedly the author's most powerful and approachable work to that date. The events surrounding that epidemic proved so shameful that the entire country tacitly agreed in the aftermath not to speak of or analyze what happened. Now, however, the blank white ballots bring back haunting memories of the white blindness. Perhaps the citizenry's refusal to cast marked ballots augurs some sort of political epidemic that could spread to the rest of the country.

What makes SEEING such a remarkable work is the picture Saramago draws of a right-wing government under duress, with eerie echoes (intentional or otherwise) of the current Bush Administration's "war on terror" and its imposition of democracy on Iraq. Unsure how to respond to a benign protest but certain that an anti-democratic conspiracy exists, Saramago's ruling government quickly labels the movement "terrorism, pure and unadulterated" and declares a state of emergency, allowing the government "to suspend at a stroke of a pen all constitutional guarantees." Five hundred citizens are seized at random and disappear into secret interrogation sites, and their status is coded red/red for secrecy. Their families are informed in Orwellian style not to worry about the lack of information concerning their loved ones, since "in that very silence lay the key that could guarantee their personal safety." When these moves bear no fruit regarding this "depth charge launched against the stability of the democratic system...of the entire planet," the right wing government adopts a series of increasingly drastic steps, from declaring a state of siege and concocting plots to create disorder to withdrawing the police and seat of government from the capital, sealing the city against all entrances and exits, and finally manufacturing their own terrorist ringleader. The city continues to function near-normally throughout, the people parrying each of the government's thrusts in inexplicable unison and with such a level of nonviolent resistance that they must all be channeling Mahatma Gandhi.

As always, Saramago presents his story in dense, run-on sentences that twist and turn and sparkle like diamonds, to be read and admired for their brilliant cut and the play of light through their many facets. To wit,

-- the media promote "the old game of public virtues masking private vices, the jolly carousel of private vices elevated to the status of public virtues..."

-- "...we will all continue to lie when we tell the truth, and to tell the truth when we lie..."

-- "...since the citizens of this country were not in the healthy habit of demanding proper enforcement of the rights bestowed on them by the constitution, it was only logical, even natural, that they failed even to notice that those rights had been suspended."

-- "...demonstrations never achieve anything, if they did, we wouldn't allow them..."

If Gabriel Garcia Marquez is arguably the world's greatest living writer, Jose Saramago proves once again in SEEING that he is the world's greatest active practitioner of the novel form, and certainly the most deserving Nobelist for Literature in the last decade. SEEING is, in a word, extraordinary. In it, Saramago demonstrates unparalleled mastery of the written word, flashes his low-key but biting satire like a rapier, and reinforces his position as the moral voice of his generation.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant And Horrifying Vision Aug. 15 2006
By Louis N. Gruber - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Things start to go dreadfully wrong when more than two thirds of the country's voters turn in blank ballots; in a hastily arranged repeat election, the percentage is even higher. The government is not amused, and responds as to a treasonous threat to democracy. One after the other, bad decisions are taken, leading to measures that are progressively worse.

Somehow the phenomenon of the blank votes is connected to the epidemic of blindness that swept the country four years earlier (in Saramago's previous novel, Blindness), and the government begins to focus its suspicions on the one person who didn't go blind--a courageous woman who kept a small group of people alive through unspeakable horrors. A police superintendent is sent out with a small team to investigate this woman--and to find her guilty.

Author Jose Saramago writes brilliantly, with wit, wisdom and humor, building inexorably to a horrific ending. His manner of writing, as always, takes some getting used to. Long, rambling paragraphs with minimal punctuation, as though you were simply overhearing the whole thing. Author Saramago has a dark view of human institutions, and of leaders who have to be right at any cost. In Seeing, he has written a brilliant, dark, and persuasive parable of modern life. I recommend this book highly, but be sure to read Blindness first. Reviewed by Louis N. Gruber.
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