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The Tale of the Unknown Island by [Saramago, José]

The Tale of the Unknown Island Kindle Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Length: 70 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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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

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.

Product details

  • File Size: 3006 KB
  • Print Length: 70 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; First edition (October 5, 2000)
  • Publication Date: October 5, 2000
  • Sold by: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B003T0GBQ0
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Screen Reader: Supported
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #476,010 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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