Saturday, June 19, 2010
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.