By Jose Saramago
New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1995
ISBN: 0-15-185198-0

Comments by Bob Corbett
May 27, 1999

I was captivated by this dreamy fantasy, told in the frame of a children's story (modeled on something like the "Gingerbread Man" where character leads to character and so on), and yet it stirred deep and significant philosophical reflections for me. What a marvelous book. It was my first read of a Saramago novel. It won't be my last.

A brief summary, which you may want to skip if you plan to read the book (just a brief paragraph about the plot): It is contemporary time and in an astonishing occurrence the entire Iberian peninsula breaks away from the European continent and sails off into the Atlantic. We are introduced to 5 human characters and a dog, all who are central. Four of the humans have had odd experiences connected with the logic of the break up of the peninsula, a logic which is completely contrary to what we know as the laws of nature or the laws of science. The story is then two-fold -- the story of the peninsula which is a tale that follows a logic and set of laws that are not what we humans call natural, and the story of the inter-relationships of the five people and the dog.

The fantasy is utterly gripping. But for me the greatest reward of the book is the subtle philosophical underpinning, a complete skepticism about our notions of nature and natural laws. On Saramago's view we make up these laws on the basis of our limited and approved sets of experiences -- experiences that fit the laws. Yet the world may well operate and be operating according to different rules, whose logic we cannot perceive, or perhaps, by no logic at all.

A very challenging book at one level. A delightful fantasy at another.

Others of you read it? If so, did I read it as you did or differently?

Bob Corbett

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Bob Corbett