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The Tale of the Unknown Island Paperback – October 5, 2000


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 51 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (October 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0156013037
  • ISBN-13: 978-0156013031
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 4.8 x 0.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #116,695 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

"A man went to knock at the king's door and said, Give me a boat."

Even without the "Once upon a time," it's clear from the opening sentence of José Saramago's mischievous and wise The Tale of the Unknown Island that we have entered a somewhat fractured fairy tale. Of course, it could be argued that all of his works are, in some form or another, fairy tales, from the whimsical, revisionist History of the Siege of Lisbon to the darker dystopia of Blindness. Originally published as a short story in Portugal, Unknown Island contains all of the elements Saramago is famous for--dry wit, a seemingly simple plot that works on many levels, and an idiosyncratic use of punctuation, among other things. It begins as a satire concerned with the absurdity of bureaucracy as supplicants arrive at the king's door for petitions while the king himself waits by the door for favors:

Since the king spent all his time sitting at the door for favors (favors being offered to the king, you understand), whenever he heard someone knocking at the door for petitions, he would pretend not to hear, and only when the continuous pounding of the bronze doorknocker became not just deafening, but positively scandalous, disturbing the peace of the neighborhood (people would start muttering, What kind of king is he if he won't even answer the door), only then would he order the first secretary to go and find out what the supplicant wanted, since there seemed no way of silencing him.
On this particular occasion, the man at the door asks for a boat so that he can search for an unknown island. When the king assures him that all the islands have already been discovered, he refuses to believe it, explaining that one must exist "simply because there can't possibly not be an unknown island." A palace cleaning woman overhears the conversation, and when the king finally grants his supplicant a boat, she leaves the royal residence via the door of decisions and follows the would-be explorer. Saramago then moves from satire to allegory as his two dreamers prepare for their voyage of discovery--and nearly miss the forest for the trees. The Tale of the Unknown Island packs more charm and meaning into 50 tiny pages than most novels accomplish at five times the length. Readers already familiar with the Nobel Prize-winning Saramago will find everything they love about his longer works economically sized; for those who have not yet experienced the pleasures of his remarkable imagination, Unknown Island provides a charming introduction. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Literature, Saramago (History of the Siege of Lisbon) departs from his signature dense, inventive linguistic style and historically encompassing subjects to offer a simple, intriguing fable. This short, illustrated book begins as a fairy tale with a decidedly political inflection: an unnamed man waits by the king's door for petitions, a door the king neglects because he's occupied at the door for favors ("favors being offered to the king, you understand"). The man's tenacity happily coincides with the monarch's fear of a popular revolt, which results in the king begrudgingly granting the man a seaworthy boat with which he can sail to find "the unknown island." A philosophical discussion about whether such an island exists or is findable precedes the king's acquiescence, and the reader understands that the man is a dreamer, with bold imagination and will. The king's cleaning woman also intuits this, and she leaves the palace to join the man in his adventure. The two would-be explorers claim the boat, only to realize they have no provisions or crew. They elude despair with a celebratory meal and a burgeoning romance. Whether the vessel, newly christened The Unknown Island, ever finds its destination remains a mystery, but a crucial and tender suggestion persists: follow your dream and your dream will follow. More cynical readers may interpret the moral as "be careful what you wish for; you might get it." At the book's close, the man tosses in a dream marked with a desperate yearning for the cleaning woman and filled with images of lush flora and fauna thriving in the boat. Saramago tells his deceptively plain tale in simple prose studded with the dialogue of endearingly innocent characters; readers, dreamers and lovers will detect the psychological, romantic and social subtexts.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

JOSE SARAMAGO is one of the most acclaimed writers in the world today. He is the author of numerous novels, including All the Names, Blindness, and The Cave. In 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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This is a good story for children or adults.
A. Gift For You
Without being an expert in Levinas, I hear in this story some echoes of his idea of seeing and recognizing the other in front of us in order to transcend.
Juan del Valle
I highly recommend reading the poem and comparing it to the book.
Alexandra Badea

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This short fable is a wonderful metaphor for courage and seeking the impossible dream, for searching for the unknown islands in our lives even if we are certain we have discovered them all. The man in this simple, yet philisophical story inspires bold courage to dream inspite of obstacles, to remain determined in spite of skeptism and ultimately to find one true love. A very sweet ending. Truly an exceptional short read. I'll read it aloud to my family and friends over and over and like it more each time.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Carlos R. Lugo-Ortiz on February 5, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This delightful tale is an excellent example of Saramago's fiction. The plot is deceptively simple (a man about to set for a trip to search for an unknown island), but what the characters say and think give depth to the tale. It is, indeed, a tale of a quest--a deep quest, not any quest--, and it can be summarized by what the man himself says at one point (I translate from the original Portuguese): "Liking something is possibly the best way of having it, having something is possibly the worst way of liking it." As "Todos os nomes", the tale is highly symbolic, particulary towards the end; however, in this case, the meanings of the symbols are more evident. A tale that can be read at many levels, I thoroughly recommend it to those already familiarized with Saramago and to those that are just being introduced to his wonderful world.
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31 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 30, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Jose Saramago's book, The Tale of the Unknown Island is a little book that presents a little story. Both a love story and a fable, The Tale of the Unknown Island presents an elegant and exquisite premise that is disappointingly flawed in its execution.
The book begins beguilingly enough, when a man with a quest knocks at the door of a king and begs for a boat to make an expedition to an unknown island. The king is not immediately agreeable but our hero finds an unlikely ally in the king's cleaning woman and, after receiving the ship he has asked for, he and the woman join forces.
There is one problem. There are no unknown islands. All that exist have already been mapped and claimed by the king. When the harbormaster attempts to dissuade the man from his dream, and no one signs on board as crew members, the hero of this little tale finds that only the cleaning woman will help him pursue his seemingly impossible dream.
The island is discovered, but unfortunately, the journey taken is literally one of which the stuff of dreams are made. REM sleep and narcoleptic love play a big part in this story. It is here, in the land of dreams, where the story really falls apart and our suspension of disbelief grows harder and harder to suspend.
Nobel Prize winner, Jose Saramago, is the author of breathtakingly beautiful books such as Baltasar and Blimunda and The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, and works of stunning originality like Blindness, so I expected far more from The Tale of the Unknown Island. Perhaps these high expectations were a part of the problem.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By pip on February 7, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I read this book in maybe 20 minutes, but it was the most enjoyable 20 minutes that I have ever spent reading a book. Now, I'm not going to write a long, flourishing review that the people before me have done, because I'm a teenage girl that really isnt into writting reveiws, but I am going to tell you that it is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. Jose Saramago has a way of writting that just captures you. There are no quotation marks, and few periods. None of the characters have birth names, but I felt that things like "The king, the cleaning lady, and the man" where perfect enough. I even read it outloud, and gave everyone a voice, imagining that I was there with them. It was really quite a marvelous read, and I encourage anyone to read it. Do it for yourself - you and your mind deserve it :)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth E. Cooper on February 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Jose Saramago's wisdom wrapped in a small book reveals far more than a simple tale. His writing in The Tale of the Unknown Island, like in his bold Blindness, is a paradox addressing issues that confront us all. In this short story are provocative truths filling the pages and surrounding the unknown until the isand becomes familiar...or at least worth visiting. It's a quick read, but an unforgetable story.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Alexandra Badea on September 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This short book is a good exercise for one imagination. It can make one ask himself what is the unknown island he is in search for. And whether he is ready to begin the search. It takes some courage to follow one's dream, or one can postpone it. Perhaps just as Ulysses (Odysseus) postponed his return home to Ithaka, an island he used to know well in the past. There is a poem with the same name, Ithaka, by Constantine Cavafys, illustrating a myth similar to what I believe is the central motive of "The tale of the Unknown island". I highly recommend reading the poem and comparing it to the book.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Eric Brotheridge on January 15, 2001
Format: Hardcover
As with all good stories, this one satisfies on many different levels; for my five year old and seven year old, an introduction to dreaming, asking for what you want, and another spin on the classic boy meets girl story that little ones find so enchanting (and big ones, too!); for the literary sophisticate, metaphor, allegory and wonderful imagery; for the philosopher, little tidbits along the lines of "If you don't step outside yourself, you'll never discover who you are..."; for the lover of a good story that comes in a small package, a good story, one that slips up and down inside you with the tides.
I'll leave my review at that. From experience, I have learned that fairy tales and fables are best left untouched, underanalyzed, and simply breathed in.
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