cover image The Stone Raft

The Stone Raft

Jose Saramago. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P, $23 (292pp) ISBN 978-0-15-185198-0

In this charming Portuguese political fable by the author of The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, pandemonium occurs when the Iberian peninsula breaks loose (literally) and goes charging off into the North Atlantic. Bureaucrats fret because the errant land mass is speeding straight toward the Azores; the Government of National Salvation plots to avoid impending disaster, but the former peninsula has its own agenda. Meanwhile, five Iberian residents separately experience assorted phenomena they believe are connected to the rupture. (One makes an ineradicable line in the earth, another becomes a human seismograph, another unravels a neverending sock, etc.) Through a series of coincidences and the efforts of a mute and nameless dog, the five find each other and begin a gypsylike peregrination to make sense of the peninsula's fractious behavior. At times an unexpected darkness intrudes on these proceedings--Saramago heckles his characters occasionally for no discernible reason--and the conclusion seems abrupt, its somber notes ringing false. However, the political reaction to this geological mishap is marvelously amusing--and greatly enhanced by the author's nimble prose and random metaphysical touches. (May)