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review 2019-03-30 13:39
Final Thoughts: Las intermitencias de la muerte
Las intermitencias de la muerte - José Saramago

Al día siguiente no murió nadie.



In his novels, Saramago often liked to explore the deep-reaching consequences of having a single brick removed from the foundation of society, and watching everything come down. In this case, it's death. At the start of the book, we're told that the citizens of an unnamed country have stopped dying. At first, immortality seems like a great deal, but the truth hits home almost immediately. For one, the fact that people aren't dying doesn't mean they're still not aging or having terrible accidents and illnesses. The strain on hospitals and old age homes is devastating, and the funeral industry is desperate. Soon, a maphia (with a ph, as they say, to distinguish themselves from the traditional organization) steps in to "help" by escorting people to the border so they can finally give up the ghost on the other side. Meanwhile, the church is having an existential crisis (since, as they say, their entire mission depends on death) and the government is trying to juggle all these factors. A few months later, death returns, but with a change in MO: those scheduled to die now receive a letter a week before, informing them of their impending fate. Death herself sees this as a good thing; society, of course, does not.


The second part of the novel hones in on one prospective recipient of death's (with a small letter d, as she corrects the newspaper editors who try to capitalize it) letter. Inexplicably, the envelope death sends him keeps coming back to her, and she needs to find out why. And here I can't really say any more about the story, because it would spoil what happens next.


I believe this book is translated into English as Death with Interruptions, and is definitely worth a read if you haven't explored any of Saramago's work. His writing style is very unique, with few full stops or paragraph breaks, but it flows beautifully in a stream of consciousness way that makes it worth the effort.

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review 2018-07-01 10:54
Give Me a Boat: “The Tale of the Unknown Island” by José Saramago, Margaret Jull Costa (translator)
The Tale of the Unknown Island - José Saramago,Peter Sís,Margaret Jull Costa


“A MAN WENT TO KNOCK AT THE KING’S DOOR AND said, Give me a boat."

In “The Tale of the Unknown Island” by José Saramago

I love the way Saramago builds this parable by using the Portuguese King D. João II and Columbus. He went to Lisbon in 1476 and remained here for several years, seeking the support of King D. João II and gathering nautical and geographic intelligence from the returning sailors. Why did we want to embark on the Age of Discoveries? Easy: We saw a niche begging to be literally explored. On the other hand, Spain was fighting the Moors, the Turks were attacking Italy, and Austria and France and Britain were fighting each other in the Hundred Year War. Portugal, on the other hand, was a united kingdom with relatively few internal problems and enemies. Smart, uh? We’re always looking for an opportunity to shine bright…


If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2018-06-20 10:13
Et ego in illo: “Baltasar and Blimunda” by José Saramago, Giovanni Pontiero (Translator)
Baltasar and Blimunda - José Saramago,Giovanni Pontiero

“If Adam was punished for wishing to resemble God, how do men come to have God inside them without being punished, and even when they do not wish to receive Him they go unpunished, for to have and not to wish to have God inside oneself amounts to the same absurdity, and the same impossible situation, yet the words Et ego in illo imply that God is inside me, how did I come to find myself in thus labyrinth of yes and no, of no that means yes, of yes that means no, opposed affinities allied contradictions, how shall I pass safely over the edge of the razor, well, summing up, before Christ became man, God was outside man and could not reside in him, then, through the Blessed Sacrament, He came to be inside man, so man is virtually God, or will ultimately become God, yes, of course, if God resides in me, I am God, I am God not in triune or quadruple, but one, one with God, He is I, I am He, Durus est hic sermo, et quis potest eum audire.”

In “Baltasar and Blimunda” by José Saramago, Giovanni Pontiero(translator)

(“ […] Se a Adão por querer assemelhar-se a Deus, como têm agora os homens a Deus dentro de si e não são castigados, ou o não querem receber e castigados não são, que ter e não querer ter Deus dentro de si é o mesmo absurdo, a mesma impossibilidade, e contudo Et ego in illo, Deus está em mim, ou em mim não está Deus, como poderei achar-me nesta floresta de sim e não, de não que é sim, do sim que é não, afinidades contrárias, contrariedades afins como atravessarei salvo sobre o fio da navalha, ora, resumindo agora, antes de Cristo se ter feito homem, Deus estava fora do homem e não podia estar nele, depois, pelo Sacramento, passou a estar nele, assim o homem é quase Deus, ou será afinal o próprio Deus, sim, sim, se em mim está Deus, eu sou Deus, sou-o de modo não trino ou quádruplo, mas uno, uno com Deus, Deus nós, ele eu, eu ele, Durus est hic sermo, et quis potest eum audire.”

In “Memorial do Convento” by José Saramago

Arriving in Mafra, let us imagine ourselves as part of the crowd that, on October 22, 1730, attended the consecration of the convent. Impossible not to be impressed by this façade more than 230 meters in length. To the centre, the basilica with its dome and bell towers, and on each side the imposing turrets. The portico columns clearly showed the neoclassical influence, complemented by several sculptures in the same style. Saramago tells us that 40,000 workers worked night and day so that the Basilica could be finished on D. João V's birthday.


If you're into stuff like this, you can read the full review.

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review 2017-11-26 23:52
Raised from the Ground by José Saramago
Raised from the Ground - José Saramago,Margaret Jull Costa

Look, I like fiction that teaches me about history and deals with social issues, and I don’t mind a bit of stylistic experimentation. But I have my limits. This so-called novel is about 30% story, 10% flights of fancy and 60% unsourced treatise on labor relations in 20th century Portugal. Several generations of a peasant family are dirt-poor, doing backbreaking labor from sunrise to sunset for rich landowners who may or may not pay enough to keep their families from starvation. As the decades go on the workers become increasingly engaged in a struggle for better wages and hours. The landowners, government and Catholic Church unite to keep the workers down, the landowners refusing to raise wages and calling in the police at any sign of labor unrest; the government (particularly under the Salazar dictatorship) responding violently to strikes and arresting and torturing suspected organizers; and the local priests preaching acceptance of their lot to the peasants and getting cozy with the landowners.

Which is a fine backdrop for a story, but here the history is at the forefront; the book isn't about its characters but rather the overall state of workers’ rights and oppression at the time. Whole chapters don’t include anyone we’ve even met, but describe the torture and death of an unknown laborer (much of it from the anthropomorphized perspective of the ants in the room), or elaborate on an extended metaphor comparing the latifundio to an ocean. Meanwhile the appearances of the "protagonists" from the Mau-Tempo family are about putting a face on the workers’ poverty, subjugation and slow empowerment, rather than any excitement in their personal lives. The plot of the book is the story of the rural Portuguese peasantry in general and not anything going on with these individuals. I couldn't help wondering, since Saramago was clearly much more interested in the history than the fiction, if he chose to write an impressionistic "fictional" story rather than the seemingly more natural nonfiction account in part because it allowed him to avoid the work of marshaling all the required facts and figures. Or maybe I'm being unfair and he was simply using his soapbox as a famous author to hold forth on the issues that mattered to him, and fictional conventions be damned.

Meanwhile, the writing style is experimental, full of run-on sentences and paragraphs that incorporate dialogue without quotation marks. Here are samples so you can see for yourself:

“Long live the republic. So how much is the new daily rate, boss, Let’s see, I pay whatever the others pay, talk to the overseer, So, overseer, how much is the daily rate, You’ll earn an extra vintém, That’s not enough to live on, Well, if you don’t want the job, there are plenty more who do, Dear God, a man could die of hunger along with his children, what can I give my children to eat, Put them to work, And if there is no work, Then don’t have so many children, Wife, send the boys off to collect firewood and the girls for straw, and come to bed, Do with me as you wish, I am my master’s slave, and there, it’s done, I’m pregnant, with child, in the family way, I’m going to have a baby, you’re going to be a father, I’ve missed a period, That’s all right, eight can starve as easily as seven.”

“Tomorrow, said Dona Clemência to her children, and her nieces and nephews, is New Year’s Day, or so she had gleaned from the calendar, placing her hopes in the brand-new year and sending her best wishes to all the Portuguese people, well, that isn’t quite what she said, Dona Clemência has always spoken rather differently, but she’s learning, we all choose our own teachers, and while these words are still hanging in the air, news comes that there has been an attack on the barracks of the third infantry regiment in Beja, now Beja is not in India or Angola or Guinea-Bissau, it’s right next door, it’s on the latifundio, and the dogs are outside barking, though the coup was put down, they will speak of little else over the next weeks and months, so how was it possible for a barracks to be attacked, all it took was a little luck, that’s all it ever takes, perhaps that’s what was lacking the first time around, and no one noticed, that’s our fate, if the horse carrying the messenger bearing orders to commence battle loses a shoe, the whole course of history is turned upside down in favor of our enemies, who will triumph, what bad luck. And in saying this we are not being disrespectful to those who left the peace and safety of their homes and set off to try and pull down the pillars of the latifundio, though Samson and everyone else might die in the attempt, and when the dust had settled and we went and looked, we found that it was Samson who had died and not the pillars, perhaps we should have sat down under this holm oak and taken turns telling each other the thoughts we had in our head and heart, because there is nothing worse than distrust, it was good that they hijacked the Santa Maria, and the attack in Beja was good too, but no one came to ask us latifundio dogs and ants if either the ship or the attack had anything to do with us, We really value what you’re doing, though we don’t know who you are, but since we are just dogs and ants, what will we say tomorrow when we all bark together and you pay as little heed to us as did the owners of this latifundio you want to surround, sink and destroy. It’s time we all barked together and bit deep, captain general, and meanwhile check to see that your horse doesn’t have a shoe missing or that you only have three bullets when you should have four.”

Certainly Saramago is a talented writer with a strong voice, and for all the unusual choices here he brings the setting vividly to life. The translation is very good, and the publishers deserve credit for a professional job, including a few brief footnotes explaining historical and cultural references that may not be self-evident to a non-Portuguese reader. This book is not without merit, and had I come into it looking for a history of labor relations rather than a novel, perhaps I wouldn’t have been so disappointed. But for all Saramago’s talent, for me it was a drag to read.

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review 2017-09-01 07:16
I didn't need it pointed out to see it
Caín - José Saramago

So, Saramago goes trolling through the old testament.

I really liked "The Gospel according to Jesus Christ", and have read some very interesting takes on the Cain and Abel story (like Unamuno's Abel Sanchez), but I didn't much care for this one. After the first quarter, I had trouble staying engaged, and had to power through to finish.

It was choke full of dry or ironic humor, and of particular stylistic prose, and it made some pointed observations. And yet...

The Old T has some hugely objectionable, harsh, or down-right insane acts from god and it's devotees. I remember lifting my eyebrows at several points during my read as a teen. This book tours us through and addresses the problems with most (but not all) of them, in an attempt to... what? Discredit god? Because I can't even call this atheism, it is SO bitterly anti-god.

*shrug* It didn't live up to my expectations for the author.

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