The Tale of the Unknown Island

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"The Tale of the Unknown Island"
First edition
Author José Saramago
Original title O Conto da Ilha Desconhecida
Translator Margaret Costa
Illustrator Bartolomeu Dos Santos
Country Portugal
Language Portuguese
Genre Short story
Publisher Assirio & Alvim (Portugal)
The Harvill Press (UK)
Harcourt Brace (US)
Publication date
Published in English
November 1999
Media type Print
Pages 42 pp

"The Tale of the Unknown Island" (Portuguese: O Conto da Ilha Desconhecida) is a short story by Portuguese author José Saramago. It was published in Portuguese in 1997, and English in 1999.


A man requests the king to give him a boat so he can go in search for the unknown island. The King questions him about the existence of such an island and tries to convince the man that all islands already appear on maps. The man states that only the known islands do. This debate concludes with the king granting him a boat.

During the following passages the man's quest to know himself expands into greater introspection. There he finds, much to his amazement, that the journey of exploration has started even before he has set the sails on the ship. He brings the floor cleaner from the Castle of the King to help him in his journey. Throughout the trip the two reveal feelings for each other and, perhaps, though it is not certain, they discover the Unknown Island.

Writing Style[edit]

Saramago greatly uses uncomplicated yet metaphor-rich language instrumental in the development of the story. This book, while only a short story and using comparatively lighter themes than in other books, has everything that Saramago is known for: criticism of bureaucracy, discovering the unknown, a smooth text flow and profound messages in concise sentences. Saramago was awarded Nobel prize in literature a year after this book was published in 1998.