Saturday, June 19, 2010

Farewell, Saramago

Jose Saramago, the Portuguese novelist and Nobel Prize winner (1998) passed away yesterday, at the age of 87.

I first read Saramago only in 2006 (his novel Blindness). But in the four years since then, I have read seven more of his novels. I have not read so many books of very many writers. The last one I read, only recently, was The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. Born in a family of landless peasants, Saramago was a late bloomer as a novelist (a first novel, published when he was 23, was followed by 30 years of silence). He became a full-time writer only in his late 50s, after working variously as a garage mechanic, a welfare agency bureaucrat, a printing production manager, a proofreader, a translator and a newspaper columnist.

Every book of Saramago's is a delight to read, though the subjects are not so delightful: an epidemic of blindness (Blindness); the destruction of community by commercial development (The Cave); human obsessions and behaviour in bizarre circumstances (All the Names, The Double); citizens' ballot-box revolt against the system (Seeing); the suspension of dying (Death With Interruptions); the separation of the Iberian peninsula from Europe (The Stone Raft); or the story of a human Jesus Christ. In every book, Saramago looks unflinchingly at life, with his unique gaze and diction. Reading a book of Saramago's is an elevating experience, a journey exploring the geography of the human spirit.

Farewell Jose Saramago!

Read the obituary in The Economist here.

Read Saramago's autobiographical essay in the Nobel Prize site here.


Vincent said...

Thanks, Rama! I'm grateful you posted also a link to some of his writing, because when I'd read your piece I wanted to get a sample of his unflinching gaze and diction.

I like your phrase "geography of the human spirit" too. Have you read anything of that other Portuguese writer, who died in 1935, Fernando Pessoa? His Book of Disquiet is one of the greatest works in 20th century literature, in my opinion. He too delineated a geography of the human spirit, with unflinching gaze. Is it a Lisbon thing, I wonder?

Nila-kantha-chandra said...

Hi Vincent! I have only come across a book of poems by Pessoa, long ago. I shall try toget "Book of Disquiet". Another great Portuguese writer I'm waiting to read is Antunes. Lisbon thing - I guess its about living through a bleak, blighted situation. Can understand that from Calcutta!