Jose Saramago
New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1999, from the 1998 Portuguese
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa
Illustrated by Peter Sis
ISBN # 0-15-100595-8
51 pages

Comments by Bob Corbett
November 2005

This is a small short story, 51 pages in length in this tiny book, about 5 x 6, and some of the pages being lovely illustrations.

It is a parable of hope and dreaming set in the time of kingdoms. A supplicant comes to the palace to ask for a ship that he may seek the unknown island. He is assured by the king that there are no unknown islands, only the known islands on the maps. But the supplicant rejects this view, insisting there must be an unknown island and demands a sea-worthy boat to find it. For political reasons the king gives him a boat, and the king’s house keeper runs away with the supplicant to search with him for the unknown island, sneaking out through the door of decisions.

As Saramago tells the story it is humorous, magnificently written, and astute in its insight into people and politics. It is not terribly informed about sailing, nor was the supplicant.

Reading slowly, stopping to relish the delightful language and witty exchanges, and mulling over the wicked insights into political consciousness, it still takes less than a hour to read. What a wonderful partial hour it is.

Bob Corbett


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Bob Corbett