Saramago, José

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Saramago, José

José Saramago (zhōōzĕ´ sär´ämä´gōō), 1922–2010, Portuguese novelist and short-story writer. He became a member of the Communist party in 1969 and was a staunch atheist and a strong opponent of globalization and the increasing power of multinational corporations. Saramago's first novel (never translated into English) was published in 1947. A subsequent novel, Skylight (1953), was misplaced by the publisher and did not appear until after his death (2011, tr. 2014). Saramago was essentially a journalist until a year after the 1974 Portuguese revolution. Fired from his newspaper job after a failed radical leftist coup led to reduced Communist influence in the government (1975), he devoted himself to his fiction. His second published novel (also as yet untranslated) did not appear until 1976; during the next decades it was followed by numerous other works of fiction. His best-known novels include Baltasar and Blimunda (1982, tr. 1987), The Stone Raft (1986, tr. 1994), The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (1991, tr. 1993), and Blindness (1995, tr. 1997). Often employing paradox and irony, mingling humor with melancholy and skepticism with fantasy, and blending elements of myth, allegory, and folktale with historical events, much of his fiction provides a Portuguese view of Iberian history. Saramago's stories are marked by elements of the surreal and are characteristically told by an unidentified narrator whose voice and attitude are distinctively sly, jocular, and pessimistic, with a kind of peasant wisdom; his protagonists are often portrayed resisting some kind of stifling and dehumanizing social institution.

Saramago's novels include Levantado do chão (1980; tr. Raised from the Ground, 2012); Memorial do convento (1982; tr. Baltasar and Blimunda, 1987), a picaresque love story set in the Portuguese Inquisition and the work that first brought him international acclaim; O ano da morte de Ricardo Reis (1984; tr. The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, 1990); A jangada de pedra (1986; tr. The Stone Raft, 1995); the controversial O evangelho segundo Jesus Cristo (1991; tr. The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, 1994); Ensaio sobre a cegueira (1995; tr. Blindness, 1998), perhaps his finest work, a political parable in which a city lapses into barbarism following a plague of blindness, and its sequel, Ensaio sobre a lucidez (2004; tr. Seeing, 2006); Todos os nomes (1997; tr. All the Names, 1999); A Caverna (2000; tr. The Cave, 2002); Homem duplicado (2002; tr. The Double, 2004), Intermitências da morte (2005, tr. Death with Interruptions, 2008); Viagem do elefante (2008, tr. The Elephant's Journey, 2010); and Caim (2009, tr. Cain, 2011), his last novel. Saramago also wrote poetry, essays, plays, journals, and two memoirs. After the Portuguese government blocked the nomination of his 1991 novel about Jesus for a literary prize, he moved (1992) to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands in a symbolic act of self-exile. Critics have noted that the novels written after the move are more austere, stylized, allegorical, and universal than his previous Portugal-themed works. Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998, the first Portuguese-language writer to achieve the honor.

See study by H. Bloom, ed. (2005).

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