Seeing – Jose Saramago

February 21, 2012 § 3 Comments

Saramago’s books are not all that popular in local bookstores here in Malaysia. Like I said, when I read Blindness before this, I cannot quite imagine why that would be so, given that Saramago has such beautiful writing.

So anyway, I brought my sister to the National Library when she was here to visit for a while. I could take three books out, and I was convinced that I wouldn’t be borrowing anything for myself. I’m a busy, busy person. I’ve got tons of other things to do, and so many of my own books to read! But as chance/fate would have it, I managed to pick out Saramago’s name hidden between all the other authors whose names start with ‘S’. And how could I not take that home with me?

The beginning was tough. His sentences were so SO long that I completely lost the direction and meaning of it, and had to go back to the last period in order to have another go at it.

We would really love, they would say, to provide our esteemed readers with the opportunity, which is also their right, to have access to news and opinions untrammeled by unreasonable interference and intolerable restrictions, especially during the extremely delicate times we are living through, but that is the way things are, and only someone who has worked in the honorable profession of journalism can know how painful it is having to work under virtual twenty-four-hour surveillance, but then, between you and me, the people who bear the greatest responsibility for what is happening are the voters in the capital, not the voters in the provinces, but, alas, to make matters worse, and despite all our pleading, the government will not allow us to produce a censored version for the capital and an uncensored one for the rest of the country, why, only yesterday, a high-up ministry official was telling us that censorship proper is like the sun, which, when it rises, rises for everyone, this is hardly news to us, we know the way the world works, and it is always the just who have to pay for the sinners.

It’s not so much about trying to get your head around the words and long sentences. If anything, it’s more like letting yourself get completely immersed in the writing and story and narrative, so much so that you have no thoughts of your own. The moment I start thinking, or even if I start thinking of what I’m reading might mean, I lose what I had, and have to go back again.

It was that tough.

But the writing, like Blindness, was beautifully done.

It was not, however, a matter 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, iguacus 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.

After going through half the book in two weeks (it might have been four, I lost track of time), somehow the sentences seemed a lot shorter. Or maybe I was just starting to get the hang of it. The story started to flow and float out of the book and into my head, like as if it completely bypassed my eyes. The story just presented itself to me, and I understood it without all the initial trouble I had trying to understand the narrative.

Seeing is a book in which Saramago makes politics sound just like politics. I’m someone who, for better or for worse, is really interested in politics. And this book seemed to resonate so realistically with what we personally experience in real-life, I was almost convinced that what happened in Saramago’s book might be the only way to get through to the political authorities that we, the people, are the ones with power in a democracy.

What amazes me is that there isn’t a single shout, a single long live or down with, not a single slogan saying what it is the people want, just this threatening silence that sends shivers down your spine, Forget the horror movie language, perhaps people are just tired of words…

It’s not an easy book to read, it’s not the type of book you pick up at a whim, and expect to be able to pick it up and put it down anytime you want. Despite it being a story about the power of democracy, the book itself is an absolute dictator. It doesn’t let you browse, because you simply can’t do that and think you’ll understand anything. It doesn’t let you put it down either. Put it down and risk losing the pieces you so painstakingly put together.

But it’s worth all the effort. Any good book is. And this is very much a good book.

PS: The ending was eerily simple. So, so sinister. So frighteningly real.

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§ 3 Responses to Seeing – Jose Saramago

  • Blindness is one of my all-time favourites, but I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy Seeing at all. I think you’re right when you say “Seeing is a book in which Saramago makes politics sound just like politics.” Unfortunately I’m not a fan of politics and I never got used to those long, rambling sentences. Luckily many of his other books have more in common with Blindness – I highly recommend you reading your way through his work.

  • michelle says:

    Gosh, that is indeed one heck of a long sentence, no kidding! And for someone who is probably for the worse of it, for not being really interested in politics, I guess this is one book I should steer clear of. Great review, though.
    By the way, since you seem to be a regular user of the National Library, I was just wondering how good do you find it to be? In terms of facilities and stock wise.

    • Michelle says:

      About the National Library. Not to say that it’s the best library in the world, of course, there are many many aspects that could and should be improved. The variety of books available are also somewhat lacking. But for what it’s worth, a library is a place where there should be stocks of books I have yet to read, and so far, I’ve been able to find at least one book I want to bring home with me with every visit.

      So really, not all that great, but I’m not picky. =)

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