cover image The Lizard

The Lizard

José Saramago, trans. from the Portuguese by Nick and Lucia Caistor, illus. by J. Borges. Seven Stories, $17.95 (24p) ISBN 978-1-60980-933-1

Ably translated by the Caistors, this surreal fable by Noble Prize–winner Saramago imagines a monstrously outsize military response to the appearance of a lizard. The “superb creature” is first spotted in the Lisbon neighborhood of Chiado. “This is a fairy tale,” Saramago opens; “in what other kind of story would a lizard appear in Chiado?” In folk-style woodcut figures by Brazilian artist Borges, the lizard is sometimes black, sometimes rust-colored. “It stood there in the middle of the street, its mouth half-open, flicking its forked tongue.” People flee, rumors fly (“Some said the lizard was poisonous, others that its scales were bulletproof”), emergency squads assemble, and armored cars and military planes approach. But the tale’s fairies have other plans: the lizard morphs, morphs again, then vanishes altogether, much to its attackers’ confusion. First published in the 1970s, when Portugal was ruled by a dictatorship, Saramago’s tale envisions a state so insecure that it is threatened by anything unknown. While some readers may find the mayhem disturbing rather than comic, the fable serves as a reminder that in toxic political situations, nothing—not even a fairy lizard—is safe. Ages 6–9. [em](Oct.) [/em]