The arrival in the world of the writer Jose Saramago was marked by two facts, as curious as significant, that he himself narrates in his autobiography: “My parents were called Jose de Sousa and Maria da Piedade. José de Sousa would also have been my name if the civil registry official, on his own initiative, had not added the nickname by which my father’s family was known in town: Saramago (it should be clarified that the saramago is a spontaneous herbaceous plantwhose leaves, in those times –of necessity–, served as food in the kitchen of the workers)”.
“Only when I was seven years old, when I had to present an identity document at primary school, did it become known that my full name was José de Sousa Saramago…”
The humble beginnings of José Saramago
The first two years of little José Saramago’s life were spent in his native Azinhaga, a small town in the center of Portugalwhere his father worked in the fields as a day laborer for a meager salary.
In 1924 his father decided to migrate with his family to the capital of the country, Lisbon, where he got a job as a policeman. A few months after living in that city, his only brother died, Francisco.
Undoubtedly, with their move to the big city, the economic conditions of the Sousas improved, but not much. For several years they lived in houses that they shared with other families, until finally, When José was between 13 and 14 years old, they lived in a house just for them, albeit a bit tiny.
Throughout that time, he used to spend long periods of time with his beloved maternal grandparents, Jerome Melrinho and Josefa Caixinha, who lived in Azinhaga from pig farming. About them, the writer who recommended: “Let yourself be guided by the child you were” tells a couple of anecdotes that are life lessons.
in one of those stories he recounts that his grandparents “were very poor people, they lived in an almost miserable house where the cold in winter could not be endured and they, to protect their subsistence, they took the two or three weakest piglets to bed to, with their own heat, keep them alive. If the animals were left outside, in the poorly sheltered pigsties, the most likely thing was that the cold would kill them”.
The other story refers specifically to his grandfather Jerónimo: “When he was 72 or 73 years old, he suffered a vascular accident that at first did not seemto very serious, but that advised his transfer to Lisbon to be treated in a hospital…”
“My grandfather did not separate life from life, he seemed to live on the surface of things, but in the end he showed that his world was inside them.”
The school and professional career of José Saramago
José Saramago boasted of having been a good student since elementary school, because in the second grade he wrote without spelling mistakes and had completed the third and fourth grades in a single year. Already in high school he continued to obtain excellent grades, However, his parents could not continue paying for his studies.
His alternative was to enter a technical school, where for five years he learned the trade of locksmith. Fortunately, the curriculum included the subjects of French and Literature. That was how he entered the world of letters, being able to read only free school texts, since “I had no books at home (my books, bought by me, even with money borrowed from a friend, I could only have them at 19 years old)”.
After graduating from technical school, he got a job as a locksmith in a mechanical workshop in Lisbon. And as a regular reader, he began to frequent a public library at night and develop his vocation as a writer.
In 1944, at the age of 22, he obtained a position as an administrative employee of the social security and married the then typist Ilda Reis, who would become a prominent engraving artist. In 1947 they coincided the birth of his only daughter, violentand the publication of his first book: the novel ‘Land of sin’.
Over the next two decades he ventured into the publishing industry as a translator and production manager.
It would not be until 1966, at the age of 44, when he would publish his second book: ‘Possible poems’. From the appearance of this collection of poems decided to dedicate himself full time to writing, also dabbling in journalism and literary criticism.
In 1970, the year of his divorce from Ilda, he published the book of poems ‘Probably joy’ and began a life together with the writer, journalist and translator Isabel de Nóbregaconsidered one of his great muses when dedicating his novel to him ‘Convent Memorial’ (1982).
“To Isabel, because nothing loses or repeats, because everything creates and renews.”
Second winds in the life of José Saramago
Frequently fired from his jobs, because of his libertarian expressions against the authoritarian regimes in Portugal, Saramago made the decision to establish himself as a writer Independent in the seventies.
Thanks to that determination, the quantity and quality of his literary production increased remarkably, with the novels ‘Manual of painting and calligraphy’ (1977), ‘Lifted from the ground’ (1980), ‘The year of the death of Ricardo Reis’ (1984), ‘The stone raft’ (1986) and ‘History of the siege of Lisbon’ (1989); the
theatrical pieces ‘The Night’ (1979) Y ‘The second life of Francisco de Asís’ (1987)and the collection of stories ‘Almost an object’ (1978)among other creations of his pen.
In 1986, at the age of 64, he broke his relationship with Isabel and He began a relationship with the Spanish journalist Pilar del Río, with whom he married in 1988.. She, besides being literally the pillar of her life until her last days, was the official translator of her work into Spanish and to whom she dedicated her childhood autobiography.The little memories’.
“To Pilar, who was not yet born and who took so long to arrive.”
Due to the censorship of the ‘secular’ government of his country against his novel ‘The Gospel according to Jesus Christ’ (1991), considering “it was an offensive book for Catholics”, Saramago and Pilar went into self-exile on the island of Lanzarotein the Canary Islands archipelago.
There he wrote ‘Essay on blindness’ (1995), ‘All names’ and ‘The tale of the unknown island’ (1997), and began writing his diary, entitled ‘Notebooks of Lanzarote’in whose pages he reveals “his daily life in Lanzarote, where he moved his residence in 1993.
José Saramago, Nobel Prize for Literature
The The great moment in the career of José Saramago would come on October 8, 1998 when, at the age of 76, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literaturebecause “with parables supported by imagination, compassion and irony, he continually allows us once again to apprehend an elusive reality”, according to the Swedish academy, which awarded him the award.
“The Nobel Prize for Literature makes me very happy and at the same time I feel a great responsibility for being the first (and to date the only) writer in the Portuguese language to receive it.”
On December 10 of the same year Saramago received the recognition from King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden. In his acceptance speech (dedicated to Pilar), the author concluded by saying: “The voice that read these pages wanted to be the echo of the joint voices of my characters. I don’t have, to put it mildly, any more voice than the voice they have. Forgive me if this, which is everything to me, has seemed little to you.
After winning the Nobel, Saramago’s celebrity skyrocketed. In this regard, he himself declared: “I traveled throughout the five continents giving conferences, receiving academic titles and participating in meetings and congresses, both of a literary, social and political nature. But above all I participated in actions to claim the dignity of human beings and compliance with the Declaration of Human Rightsin pursuit of a more just society, where people are a priority”.
One of those participations took place in Mexico, in March 1998, when he visited Acteal, a town in Chiapas, to show solidarity with the cause of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.who had taken up arms against the Mexican government four years earlier.
“If you can’t find me in my country, look for me in Mexico.”
Despite so many commitments as a public figure, the deterioration of his health and his advanced age, Saramago continued to produce his work, with the publication of Political sheets (1999), The cave (2000), The largest flower in the world (2001), The duplicated man (2002), Essay on lucidity (2004), Don Giovanni or the dissolute acquitted and The flashes of death ( 2005), Little Memories (2006), The Elephant’s Journey (2008) Y Cain (2009).
What did José Saramago die of?
Saramago died on June 18, 2010, on the island of Lanzarote, at the age of 87, chronic leukemia victim. His body was transferred to Lisbon two days later to receive a great posthumous homage and to be cremated, in order to deposit his ashes under an olive tree brought from his native Azinhaga and planted in front of Casa dos Bicos, headquarters of the José Saramago Foundationin the Portuguese capital.
What books to read by José Saramago
Trip to Portugal (1981): As the title indicates, José Saramago captures in this book his impressions of touring his own country, following an itinerary that will take him to discover the landscape, the culture and the people, from Lisbon, the Portuguese capital, to the remote province of Tras the hills. Undoubtedly, a valuable guide to visit the Iberian nation.
All Names (1997): A lonely and bored employee of the civil registry, whose hobby consists of collecting information on famous people, by chance finds the birth certificate of an ‘unknown woman’, with whom he falls in love without even knowing her face, becoming obsessed with her search, who becomes it will become an autoquest.
Essay on lucidity (2004): Considered the continuation of ‘Essay on blindness’ (1995), where Saramago imagines a chaotic country, due to the fact that almost all of its inhabitants have lost their sense of sight, in this other novel the majority of citizens vote blank, forcing for the elections to be repeated, as a way of peaceful revolution.
The flashes of death (2005): Can you imagine a world where Death (sic) stops doing his deadly work and we live forever… but being old? It is the premise of this novel by José Saramago, where there comes a point where immortality is experienced as if it were a curse and it is essential that Death resume his work.
Skylight (2011): If you like me rear windowfilm starring grace kellyyou will love this posthumous novel by Saramago, in which a writer who lives in a Lisbon building observes, from his apartment, how his neighbors are and live, discovering their illusions and misfortunes, within the framework of a mid-century dictatorship. xx.
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100 years of José Saramago: the unique life of the first Nobel for a Portuguese author