Imagine, if you will, a place known as Iberia, a peninsula consisting of two great nations (Portugal and Spain). One day, for no apparent reason or cause, this geographic feature abruptly adopts a mind and a course of its own by detaching from Europe amidst the Pyrenees Mountains and floats out to sea. Interwoven with this macro geopolitical story is a micro one, depicted at a human scale, that follows five characters and a dog who wander the Iberian landscape in search of answers to what is happening to their respective homelands as a whole and to each of them individually.
I adored the first 2/3s of The Stone Raft and spent the last third wishing the book would never end. It takes about a chapter become accustomed to Jose Saramago’s unique and Nobel Prize winning style of writing. It is akin to Jack Kerouac’s spontaneous prose, but more like spontaneous conversation without quotation marks. The book was first published in 1986, but it is interesting to compare the dynamics of Iberia’s physical separation from Europe in the context of Brexit 30 years hence.
The fact that the Iberian Peninsula actually rests on its own tectonic plate adds more potential realism to Señor Saramago’s storyline, though only a few actually feel the Earth’s subtle movements taking place beneath them in the book.
To me, The Stone Raft is a story of hope rather than a dystopian novel. It’s a story of hope because these two groups – five weary travelers and a dog, as well as two very proud nations, are charting their way through unknown waters while being beset by a series of unique and varied circumstances. This search causes (or helps) them to break free of the geographic, physical, psychological, political, ethical, and sociological chains that have bound them while also opening their eyes to boundless new vistas and opportunities awaiting.