- Series: Harvest Book
- Paperback: 300 pages
- Publisher: Mariner Books; First edition (June 14, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0156004011
- ISBN-13: 978-0156004015
- Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 35 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #814,365 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Stone Raft Paperback – June 14, 1996
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From Publishers Weekly
Portuguese novelist Saramago's surreal political fable follows the adventures of the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula after it literally breaks away from Europe.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From the Back Cover
Joana Carda scratches the ground with an elm branch and the mute dogs of Cerbere begin to bark, portending doom. The earth cracks open and the Iberian peninsula separates from Europe and floats off into the Atlantic. The people flee the coastal areas in a mass exodus, to wander, disoriented, across the floating, spinning island's interior. Among them are a group of strangers who wind up in the home of Maria Guavaira: Joaquim Sassa, who threw a stone into the sea and then found himself in Maria's bed; Joana Carda, who cut the earth in two; Jose Anaico, the king of the starlings; Pedro Orce, who can make the earth tremble with his feet; and a dog with no name and every name. At once an epic adventure and a timely political fable about the vicissitudes of the European Community, The Stone Raft is a narrative tour de force.
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This passage, from the last few pages of José Saramago's novel "The Stone Raft," acts as both summation and re-introduction to the story. I can include it here, and even say that it is critical to understanding the nature of the idea behind this book, without giving anything specific about the book away. All of the things that it describes specifically happen in the first chapter or two. The book's themes, present troughout the story, are summed up elegantly above.
"The Stone Raft" is an impressive novel, in many ways. It is the second of Saramago's books that I have read, "All the Names" being the first. While I found "All the Names" to be well-written, clever, and imaginative, "The Stone Raft" surpasses it easily. It tackles a difficult concept within the first few chapters, an event which changes the world dramatically. I've found that most writers, when beginning with such a concept, either pull their punches and fail to take their story as far as it could go, or they quickly devolve into trite reiterations of common morality and sentimentality. Saramago does neither. His story is one of fantasy, in many ways, but it is a fantasy based in the real world, and Saramago proves himself to be a remarkably gifted fantasist as he carries his story all the way to the end without faltering.
The premise of "The Stone Raft" lies in a seemingly cataclysmic event: the breaking away of the Iberian Peninsula (Portugal and Spain) from the rest of Continental Europe. The peninsula (now an island of sorts) simply fractures off and floats away across the ocean. While the larger story of this and its effect on the rest of the world is told as well, the majority of the book focuses on five people who live on the Peninsula, each of whom feel that they are somehow connected to the breakaway. The story follows their journey as they come together, and then of the relationships that develop between them. Through it all, Saramago remains constant to his purpose; whether telling the story of the floating island or detailing the lives of these five individuals on it, his themes and style are maintained.
Mind you, Saramago is not an easy author to read. His themes are challenging, to be sure, but his prose itself is equally so. He writes in long, meandering sentences, embedding key points of story in what might seem at first like a tangent. He eschews the standard grammatical use of quotes and paragraph divisions in his dialogue, so that conversations between characters are read as single paragraphs, with no quotes to tell you when one character stops talking and another starts. These are the ways that polite authors make it easy for their readers to understand their work, and I suppose that means that Saramago is not as polite as many writers. Said simply, "The Stone Raft" (and Saramago's work in general) is not for the light reader, looking for a bit of evening entertainment before they drift off. I'm risking sounding a bit elitist here, but to be perfectly honest, this is deeply challenging reading, and is probably not for just the casual reader. In defying many standard conventions of modern letters, Saramago is placing part of the burden on his readers to adjust to his style of writing.
What's amazing to me is that, despite these difficulties, which would probably be barriers for most writers, Saramago makes it work for him beautifully. He spends time actually establishing his characters, and so even though the standard puncuation of dialogue is absent, conversations can still be understood if read carefully. His sentences, seemingly endless at times, are constructed carefully. Like the partial sentence quoted above, they each hide buried treasure, small gems that collectively add to the value of the story as a whole. In these constructions, he often touches on philosophy, political commentary, history, whimsical humor, all while carrying the story forward. If you just graze over the prose, you'll most likely miss many of the bits of wisdom he plants here and there. "There are endless answers just waiting for questions," is a sentence representative of the need to read this book carefully. Complexity does not necessarily mean skill, but in Saramago's case his complex prose leads to a work of rare beauty. It may well represent a challenge to many readers, but it is a book undeniably worth the effort. The more a reader puts into reading it, the more they are likely to get out of it.
This is not a book to be devoured quickly overnight. Time should be taken to read and re-read some of the passages in "The Stone Raft." The spread of the phrase "We are Iberians too," around Europe, in all its different languages; the elegant device of a blue thread, linking two characters perfectly; from the opening paragraphs to the final pages the book deserves a careful, studious reading. Some books seem to be written out of sheer love of crafting language, while others seem to exist simply to tell a story. "The Stone Raft" is that rare novel which accomplishes both goals admirably.
A line traced on the ground. A dog who does not bark. A flock of starlings. A man who can feel the earth trembling. A stone thrown into the sea. A peninsula that suddenly and inexplicably becomes an island. A blue woolen sock. How are these things connected? "The Stone Raft" does not answer these questions for you, but gives you enough that you might be able to find the answers for yourself. In its pages, while telling a story of an event that literally changes the world, José Saramago explores the mysteries that we all are confronted with every day, and he does so with consummate skill.
"For even if my life's journey should lead me to a star, that has not excused me from travelling the roads of this earth."
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