Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Favorite Author


 ". . . what he is writing at present, whether it turns out to be the history of the siege of Lisbon or not, he will write in the daylight, the natural light falling onto his hands, on to the sheets of paper, on to any words that might appear and remain, for not all words that appear remain, in their turn casting light on our understanding of things, as far as possible, and where, were it not for them, we would never arrive." (The History of the Siege of Lisbon, p 160)

José de Sousa Saramago (1922–2010) died last Friday.  He was a Nobel-laureate Portuguese novelist, playwright and journalist. His works, some of which can be seen as allegories, commonly present subversive perspectives on historic events, emphasizing the human factor.  Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. His books have been translated into 25 languages.  In 1992, the Portuguese government, under Prime Minister Aníbal Cavaco Silva, ordered the removal of his novel, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ,  from the European Literary Prize's shortlist, claiming the work was religiously offensive. Saramago complained of censorship and moved to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, Spain, where he resided until his death.  An outspoken proponent of libertarian communism, Saramago politically antagonized some, including the Catholic Church.

My favorite of Saramago's novels is The History of the Siege of Lisbon in which Raimundo Silva, a proofreader at a Portuguese publishing house alters a key word in a text to make it read that in 1147 the king of Portugal reconquered Lisbon from the Saracens without any assistance from the Crusaders.  After doing this he is inexplicably encouraged by his supervisor, Maria Sara, to rewrite the entire history of the siege.  From this kernel the novel develops into a complex meditation on the meaning of both history and words as well as a romance and parable of life under authoritarian rule.  While I have not read all of Saramago's novels this one stands out among those I have read as his best. I have also read and enjoyed Blindness and All the Names.

No comments: