Jose Saramago, 1922-2010

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06/18/2010 11:55 AM |


Jose Saramago, the late-blooming author who became the first Portuguese-language Nobel laureate in literature, has died at his home. Saramago wrote long, often multi-page sentences, lots of lists, description, mixed with asides, busybody interjection from a shapeshifting authorial persona. It’s the mix of specificity and lyricism in those windy, windy sentences that makes Blindness, his best-known novel here, not just a highbrow crossover story of the human spirit (such as it is), but a cutting allegory and lofty fable.

With all his interventions, Saramago’s prose made its creation and its author’s intent, and larger purpose, a crucial part of his fiction; with its long, conditioned clauses, it was a dryly, exquisitely ironic voice, too. A committed Communist, Saramago was forever sardonic about his country’s politics, culture and, especially, church.

And in his latest years, was also ironic about the fate that awaited him. Death with Interruptions, published in 2005, is like Blindness a thought experiment. In the first interruption—death, like Saramago the author of midsentence aphoristic digressions, is apparently a meddler—the inhabitants of a small country stop dying. Initially considered a miracle, this is soon revealed to be a macabre inconvenience: people haven’t stopped aging, so that death seems like a gift to such a fallible—moralizing, profiteering, hypocritical—species. In the second interruption, death decides to give a week’s notice, memento mori which restore the pathos to mortality so that Saramago can pull off his last trip. An artist, a violinist, is obliviously marked for death, but somehow, quite accidentally, refuses to die. The book ends not with any declaration of the artist’s immortality—it ends with him, with his art, a temporary reprieve from what’s coming. Not forever, but just for now.