Posts Tagged ‘Jose Saramago’

‘All the Names’ by Jose Saramago – A Central Registry of Records for the Living and the Dead


‘All the Names’ by Jose Saramago   (1997) – 238 pages             Translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa

Jose Saramago was one of the few modern authors who could fully imagine complete meaningful allegories which he did time and time again. I have read a lot of the work of Saramago who I consider an absolute master of fiction, and ‘All the Names’ is another deeply intelligent work. However I found reading its long sentences and longer paragraphs rather slow going.

Of all of the works of Jose Saramago that I have read so far, ‘All the Names’ is the one that I have found to be the most difficult to read. For readers new to Saramago, my recommendation would be not to read ‘All the Names’ until you have read a few of Saramago’s other novels. ‘Blindness’ was a best seller; it has been a gateway into Saramago’s work for many people. I have found his two novels based on religious figures, ‘The Gospel According to Jesus Christ’ and ‘Cain’ to be quite accessible and enjoyable. Saramago’s amazing novel about fellow Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa, ‘The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis’, is another entertaining strong passage into his work.

However we are here today to discuss ‘All the Names’ which is probably the most metaphysical of all of Saramago’s work.

Our main character Senhor Jose, no last name, is a lowly clerk in the Central Registry of Births, Marriages, and Deaths. Above him are senior clerks, above the senior clerks are the deputies, above the deputies is the all powerful Registrar. Each level of management must keep their employees operating quietly and smoothly, thus not causing any problems for the next upper level of management. If you have ever worked in a business or government office, you know all about the bureaucratic decision-making process here.

In the Central Registry’s filing system. The records for the dead are kept separate from those for the living. That means that when any person in the living section of records dies, a clerk must retrieve their record from the living section and take it to the vast rarely-accessed dusty dead archive.

With all this trafficking between the living and the dead, you can easily see the allegorical possibilities here, and Saramago takes full advantage of them. ‘All the Names’ is profound as all of the work of Saramago is profound.

Our main character Senhor Jose becomes captivated with the search for an unknown woman when he comes upon her record in the living section. His quest for this woman begins quite humorously, but soon turns into a desperate obsession which interferes with his work life at the Central Registry. The Registrar sees certain actions that Senhor Jose takes as “mistakes committed against oneself, born of loneliness”.

‘All the Names’ is indeed profound.

Senhor Jose both wants and doesn’t want, he both desires and fears what he desires, that is what his whole life has been like.”

As Senhor Jose descends ever deeper into his compulsive obsession to find this woman, the reader gets long interminable paragraphs, some several pages long, of conversations with himself or, more absurdly, with the ceiling of his room. This is where I started to have problems as these expressions of the inner turmoil of his mind went on and on with little relief for the reader. I found all these lengthy machinations of Senhor Jose’s mind rather tedious to read.


Grade:    B



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.


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