Jose Saramago – One of my Favorite Fiction Writers of the 20th Century (and 21st)

 

Jose Saramago

Born: November 16, 1922  Died: June 18, 2010

Jose Saramago from Portugal was one of those literary giants who make what is being written today seem small and insignificant. I suppose that it is not a good argument for reading Saramago that he spoils modern fiction for you, but read him anyhow. He is one of three Portuguese literary virtuosos – Jose Maria de Eca de Queirós of the late nineteenth century, Fernando Pessoa of the early twentieth century, and Jose Saramago of the late twentieth century – all of whom wrote incredible fictions that are still powerful today. Portugal can consider itself fortunate to have had three such impressive writers.

Jose Saramago wrote convincing allegories that reflect upon the human condition. It was Saramago’s practice as a fiction writer to set whimsical parables against realistic historical backgrounds in order to comment ironically on the human situation. This gives his work a depth that few writers attain.

Perhaps his most famous work is ‘Blindness’. In ‘Blindness’ an epidemic of white blindness strikes the city, and the story becomes a parable for the loss and disorientation and struggle for survival which beset the world in the twentieth century. Saramago as a writer never shied away from the big themes and ideas.

Inside us there is something that has no name, that something is what we are.”

I don’t think we did go blind, I think we are blind, Blind but seeing, Blind people who can see, but do not see.”

The difficult thing isn’t living with other people, it’s understanding them.”

But I’ve been reading Saramago a long time, and there are other novels that I’ve read that absolutely demand to be mentioned. ‘The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis’ is Saramago’s fictional homage to that maverick Portuguese genius Fernando Pessoa who also wrote poetry as well as fiction. Saramago also wrote ‘The Gospel of Jesus Christ’ which got him into big trouble with the Catholic Church. I will list other Saramago novels that I have read, but the fact that I’m only listing them represents no drop-off in quality : ‘Baltazar and Blimunda’, ‘The Stone Raft’, ‘The History of the Siege of Lisbon’, ‘Cain’.

Saramago was prolific having written at least twenty-five novels, so I still have a lot of his work left to read. Reading each of his novels, even the short ones, is an exhilarating, exhausting, and transforming experience, so I wait a long time between novels.

The above may have wrongly convinced you that Saramago is a difficult writer, but that is not the case. He did his best to make his books readable. Here is one of his thoughts on writing.

Sometimes I say that writing a novel is the same as constructing a chair: a person must be able to sit in it, to be balanced on it. If I can produce a great chair, even better. But above all I have to make sure that it has four stable feet.”

I really think you all have got to read this exciting and mind-altering writer, Jose Saramago.

 

12 responses to this post.

  1. Amen to that. I discovered Saramago a little while ago and I have never been disappointed in his novels. What I didn’t know is that he wrote 25 of them, so I have quite a few more to hunt out!

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  2. I’ve only read the one so far, but I absolutely loved it. I want to read “Ricardo Reis” but I want to read Pessoa first! So many books, so little time…

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  3. I’ve had Blindness waiting to be read for years now! These all sound great though.

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    • I remember when ‘Blindness’ was very popular with all of us literary internet crowd. It was one of the first novels that seemed to sweep over everybody. It was soon after Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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  4. I didn’t used to like Jose Saramago, but I’ve lately changed my mind. One of my favorites is his short autobiography, Small Memories and Death, with Interruptions.

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    • Hi The Misanthropologist,
      ‘Death, with Interruptions’ could very well be my next.
      The first George Eliot I read was Silas Marner, and I thought it was sappy. However a few years later I came back to George Eliot and she became one of my favorite authors especially after reading Middlemarch.

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