I was in a book shop in Picadilly a couple of months ago and asked the assistant for José Saramago. This Nobel Prize winner is considered to be one of the greatest writers in Portuguese literature so imagine my surprise when the gentleman came back and told me they do not stock any of his works, worse still when he referred to José as a woman.
The book shop stop had been part of my grand summer plan; as well as finding a job, I had decided to read more international books, aside from my compulsory French and Spanish novels. I needed a breather from Cervantes’ Don Quixote and having been recommended Saramago when in Portugal, I decided that he was a safe bet. To be honest, I wasn’t really expecting much from him. Relatively unknown in the UK, little did I know what a jewel of a writer I would find.
José Saramago, for me, is so wide in his range of ideas and imagination that I can’t help but think that there is a book for everyone. From Death with Interruptions to The Elephant’s Journey, his novels are rich with vivid imagery, ideas and culture.
Aside from his numerous literary triumphs, Saramago was a keen political activist. He put his intelligence and fame to good use, speaking out against political atrocities and writing for national papers. In 2002, he visited Ramallah, Palestine and wrote about the condition of its inhabitants and shortly before he died, he spoke out against the Lebanon War in 2006. He constantly pushed barriers, divided opinions but never faltered in his love and admiration for the world of literature and his belief in aiding others. What makes him particularly endearing is his use of good-humor and at times, well-written satire with elements of the fantastic. He truly is unique.
Throughout his writing career, which spans some 50 odd years, Saramago displayed an extraordinary gift of writing novels which are accessible and enjoyable to even the least experienced readers. Thanks to modern day translations, his books are available in a variety of languages from his native Portuguese to our English. In Portugal, he is a national icon; hard to believe but while in Porto, I was told that he is just as renowned as Cristian Ronaldo! Like him or not, he will be definitely remembered.
Death with Interruptions
Is an incredible read, perfect for those who are perhaps skeptical of religion, especially religious attitudes toward death. In this fictitious country, people become immortal and death is a thing of the past, for now; for the romantics there is an interesting twist….
The Elephant’s Journey
Describes the journey of an elephant named Solomon, as he travels through Spain, Italy and across the Mediterranean Sea. Humorously, Saramago presents his protagonist as a human being, and why not — who said elephants cannot feel?