Wednesday, September 9, 2009

José Saramago


José de Sousa Saramago,born 16 November 1922) is 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. He founded the National Front for the Defense of Culture (Lisbon, 1992) with Freitas-Magalhães among others. He currently lives on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, Spain.

Saramago was born into a family of landless peasants in Azinhaga, Portugal, a small village in the province of Ribatejo some hundred kilometers north-east of Lisbon. His parents were José de Sousa and Maria de Piedade. "Saramago," a wild herbaceous plant known in English as the wild radish, was his father's family's nickname, and was accidentally incorporated into his name upon registration of his birth. In 1924, Saramago's family moved to Lisbon, where his father started working as a policeman. A few months after the family moved to the capital, his brother Francisco, older by two years, died. Although Saramago was a good pupil, his parents were unable to afford to keep him in grammar school, and instead moved him to a technical school at age 12. After graduating, he worked as a car mechanic for two years. Later he worked as a translator, then as a journalist. He was assistant editor of the newspaper Diário de Notícias, a position he had to leave after the political events in 1975. After a period of working as a translator he was able to support himself as a writer. Saramago married Ilda Reis in 1944. Their only child, Violante, was born in 1947. Since 1988, Saramago has been married to the Spanish journalist Pilar del Río, who is the official translator of his books into Spanish.

José Saramago was in his mid-fifties before he won international acclaim; his publication of Baltasar and Blimunda brought him to the attention of an international readership. This novel won the Portuguese PEN Club Award. Saramago has been a member of the Portuguese Communist Party since 1969, as well as an atheist[2] and self-described pessimist. His views have aroused considerable controversy in Portugal, especially after the publication of The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. Members of the country's Catholic community were outraged by Saramago's representation of Jesus as a fallible human being. Portugal's conservative government would not allow Saramago's work to compete for the European Literary Prize, arguing that it offended the Catholic community. As a result, Saramago and his wife moved to Lanzarote, an island in the Canaries.

During the 2006 Lebanon War, he signed a statement together with Tariq Ali, John Berger, Noam Chomsky, Eduardo Galeano, Naomi Klein, Harold Pinter, Arundhati Roy and Howard Zinn, condemning what they characterize as "a long-term military, economic and geographic practice whose political aim is nothing less than the liquidation of the Palestinian nation". He stood unsuccessfully as a candidate for the European Parliament in the 2009 election.

Saramago’s novels often deal with fantastic scenarios, such as that in his 1986 novel, The Stone Raft, wherein the Iberian Peninsula breaks off from the rest of Europe and sails about the Atlantic Ocean. In his 1995 novel, Blindness, an entire unnamed country is stricken with a mysterious plague of “white blindness”. In his 1984 novel, The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (which won the PEN Award and the Independent Foreign Fiction Award), Fernando Pessoa’s heteronym survives for a year after the poet himself dies. Additionally, his novel Death with Interruptions (also translated as Death at Intervals) centers around a country in which nobody dies over the course of seven months beginning on New Year's Day, and how the country reacts to the spiritual and political implications of the event.

Using such imaginative themes, Saramago addresses the most serious of subject matters with empathy for the human condition and for the isolation of contemporary urban life. His characters struggle with their need to connect with one another, form relations and bond as a community; and also with their need for individuality, and to find meaning and dignity outside of political and economic structures. Literary critic Harold Bloom considers Saramago the second greatest living novelist in the world, behind only Philip Roth, but roundly criticized his statements comparing the circumstances in the Palestinian territories to the Auschwitz concentration camp and his devotion to Stalinists.

Saramago's experimental style often features long sentences, at times more than a page long. He uses periods sparingly, choosing instead a loose flow of clauses joined by commas. Many of his paragraphs extend for pages without pausing for dialog, which Saramago chooses not to delimit by quotation marks; when the speaker changes, Saramago capitalizes the first letter of the new speaker's clause. In his novel Blindness, Saramago completely abandons the use of proper nouns instead choosing to refer to characters simply by some unique characteristic, an example of his use of style to enhance the recurring themes of identity and meaning found throughout his work.
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