Saturday, June 19, 2010

In Memoriam - José Saramago

News broke on Friday that Portuguese Nobel prize winning author José Saramago had died at home in the Canary Islands. The 87 year old author had been suffering through an illness for quite some time.

Saramago was born in Portugal in 1922 to a farming family. He spent his adult life in a variety of careers—some in government, some in publishing, some in other fields. He published one novel in his youth but largely came to writing later in life, releasing several novels through his 50s but first achieving notable success in his early 60s in 1982 with the book Baltasar and Blimunda. Despite his late start, he quickly rose to prominence and acclaim: between 1982 and 1998 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize, he published an additional 7 books, including Blindness—the book for which he is best known in the English speaking world.

In awarding Saramago the Nobel Prize the prize committee praised him as an author "who with parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony continually enables us once again to apprehend an elusory reality". Saramago's writing style is best described as experimental and it invariably won him some fans while turning other readers away. He was known for writing in long sentences and paragraphs in what some have called a stream-of-consciousness style. Flipping through a book by Saramago, it is notable that the text fills the pages in blocks, the margins consistently straight down the page with few paragraph breaks with no indication of speaker.

In addition to many fiction titles, Saramago published a memoir in 2009 called Small Memories and in 2000 a book called Journey to Portugal which looked at the history and culture of his native land.

Saramago's writings may appeal to fans of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (because of his association with magical realism), Franz Kafka (similar both in writing style and in his use of allegory), Haurki Murakami (who also uses big metaphors to examine the questions of life) and Cormac McCarthy (who has also been known to eschew standard punctuation and quotation marks).

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