José Saramago

Writer and Nobel laureate José Saramago died in June 2010. He was the author of several works, mostly allegorical novels that examined the human condition, death, politics, history and much more. Perhaps the most famous of his many works were:

The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis): Set in Portugal in the 1930s as the dictator António de Oliveira Salazar tightens his grip on power. Ricardo Reis returns home from travels through Brazil upon word that the poet Fernando Pessoa has passed away. As Reis abandons his practice, takes up his poetry, juggles affairs with two women, and coasts through a world of new and dangerous politics, he is followed by the ghost of Pessoa himself.

Baltasar and Blimunda (Memorial do Convento): In 1711 Portugal, multiple storylines of chaos weave together. The King promises to build a lavish new convent if the Church convinces God to give him an heir to the throne, while a lonesome priest works tirelessly on a flying machine steeped in heresy. Romance burns bright yet tragic between a young couple brought together by a twist of fate. And through it all, the horrors of the Inquisition rage on around the people of Portugal, who create spectacles out of violence.

The Stone Raft (A Jangada de Pedra): An allegorical novel in which the Iberian Peninsula breaks off from Europe with no explicable cause or warning. As it drifts through the sea, its residents begin to panic. Yet five people on this strange new island are drawn to each other through strange happenings, political floundering, spiritual connections, and sexual discoveries. These five individuals become forever intertwined by fate’s forced new perspective on living life adrift.

The Double (O Homem Duplicado): Tertuliano Máximo Afonso rents a specific video to try and pull himself out of the depression that has followed him since his divorce. After watching the film, he remains unimpressed. But when he catches a glimpse of the film replaying in the middle of the night, he sees a man on screen that is the spitting image of himself, only younger, healthier and more moustachioed. Despite his misgivings, he sets off to track down this mysterious double out in the real world.

All the Names (Todos os Nomes): A metaphysical thriller full of loneliness, chance, and love in this tale about Senhor José, who works in a low-ranking position at the Central Registry. José sees nothing past the shelves that house the records of the living and of the dead. But when the middle-aged man stumbles across the documents of an anonymous woman, he finds himself inexplicably obsessed. He uses every resource he can to try and track this young woman down, and the closer he gets, the more he learns about himself, too. 

Death at Intervals (As Intermitências da Morte): On the first day of a new year, not a single person across the world dies. The rest of humanity celebrates as politicians, morticians, religious leaders, and the like sort through disgruntlement. But it soon becomes clear that while the world has achieved eternal life, they are left with the burden and strains of caring for the permanently sick and undying. Meanwhile, Death sits tucked away in her apartment, observing her experiment. Maybe she never has to bring an end to another human life ever again. Maybe she could become human. Maybe she could fall in love.

Blindness (Ensaio sobre a Cegueira): A city is afflicted with a merciless plague that causes blindness. The first to be afflicted are sent to quarantine in a repurposed mental hospital. A doctor and his sighted wife are among them, who lied to stay with her husband. Conditions inside the hospital grow worse as the disease spreads throughout the outside world as well, and eventually, the doctor’s wife leads a small group to (relative) safety. A startling look at loss and cruelty in humankind, the novel serves as a parable about the worst things people can do to one another—and the beauty that comes from those who help. 

His body was laid in state in Lisbon city hall, and the President of the Republic declared three days of national mourning.

People paying their last respects at Lisbon city hall, June 2010.

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