José Saramago: the centennial year

About 75 years ago, and at his young 24 years, José Saramago appeared before the publishing world to publish his first novel written under the title of “The widow”, but far from the glory and significance that in later years he would crown with the Nobel of Literature, the author had to accept that time, and with great regret, that the publisher published it under another title, without any contract or remuneration, a situation that, 100 years after his birth -to be fulfilled in 2022-, his relatives they sought in “an act of justice” to reverse, publishing that book for the first time in Spanish together with the recovery of his complete work.

“The author is a 24-year-old boy, quiet, introverted, who makes his living as a clerk in the administrative services of the Lisbon Civil Hospitals, after having worked for more than a year as a mechanical locksmith apprentice in those workshops. hospitals ”, Saramago (Azinhaga, 1922-Tías, Lanzarote, 2010) expressed in the prologue of the work, published in Portuguese by the Minerva label and for which he did not receive a single“ shield ”, the currency used in Portugal until 2002 .

The work, in a classic style, whose protagonist is María Leonor, mother of two children, whose husband dies and must take over the administration of a farm, debating between the mourning that marks the social conventions and the Desire for Other Love Experiences, was published in 1947 under the name “Terra do Sin”, a title that the editor considered more commercially attractive and that the author accepted, feeling that in this way he was entering the world of letters in his country.

At that time, Saramago (Azinhaga, 1922-Tías, Lanzarote, 2010) had been the father of a girl, he lived in a family that adhered to the left and communism, in a Europe affected by the consequences of war, but his desire to be a writer was stronger and led him to knock on the doors of different publishers to publicize that first job. For this reason, when the publisher agreed to publish it but with several conditions. And Saramago, far from discussing them, accepted and happily made the announcement to his family and friends.

In his native land, 100 olive trees named after his characters will be planted

The work went practically unnoticed in those years, as soon as a brief review appeared in a local newspaper, which sowed doubts about his decision to write, which were deepened with the arrival of his second work, “Claraboya”, from 1953, which did not He was able to get it to see the light in any publishing house, and it was published only in 2011. That fact led him to choose silence for a long period of 20 years, until he began to publish poems, newspaper chronicles and novels.

The work, which the author never wanted to be republished or translated into other languages, now returned from the Alfaguara label, at the request of his widow and translator, Pilar del Río, and the Portuguese professor Carlos Reis, who They believed it important that this initial novel by the author of “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” be released in Spanish.

For Del Río, publishing this work is “an act of justice and historical memory”, and explained that the novel was not published before due to Saramago’s humility: “José did not want to do it, he said it was a youth work with nothing of style, and thought it might bewilder and confuse readers. It was a matter of humility, “added the widow, who said she had done” the same with ‘Skylight’, which reminded her of a very hard time and whose launch she always saw as a commercial operation. That is why he only allowed it to be published posthumously ”.

“When he sent that novel to publishers, he didn’t even get a response,” explains Del Río. So he understood that the problem was that he had nothing to say and he stopped writing for two decades. “

The recovery of the first edition of this early novel by Saramago is linked to a fortuitous event, since the text appeared wrapped in paper, in the drawer of a dresser, of an old house that was going to be demolished in the Alentejo. The book, whose first pages are the dedications of several friends, was discovered by a man who gave it to a psychiatrist, attended by him and the widow of the writer, awarded with the Nobel Prize in 1998, who also stood out for his poetic, essay and theatrical work.

Only the philosophical tone of this initiatory novel is what will later be reflected in the author’s work of such a personal style that it would become evident from “Levantado del piso” (1980), to which “El año of the death of Ricardo Reis ”(1984) and“ The stone raft ”(1986) and the book of stories“ Almost an object ”(1978).

His work in recent years includes novels, newspapers and other publications, among which are “History of the Siege of Lisbon” (1989), “All names” (1997) and the play “In nomine Dei” (1993) .

In 1991 he published one of his most recognized works, “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ”, which catapulted him to fame due to an unprecedented controversy in Portugal -which is considered a secular republic-, when the government vetoed his submission to the Literary Prize European of that year, claiming that it “offended Catholics.”

In an act of protest, Saramago left Portugal and settled on the Canary Island of Lanzarote, and in 1995 he published one of his best-known novels, “Essay on Blindness”, made into a film in 2008 under the direction of Fernando Meirelles.

It was in 1994 when the first volume of “Cuadernos de Lanzarote” was known, a set of newspapers that he wrote between 1995 and 2001, and also entered the Universal Academy of Cultures (Paris), the Argentine Academy of Letters and the Trustees of Honor of the César Manrique Foundation (Lanzarote). Starting with the Spanish edition of “La viuda”, the editorial director of Alfaguara, Pilar Reyes, explained that “it was convenient to publish it in 2021 and, through this book, present the entire centennial project”.

The editorial deployment will be accompanied by lectures by Alberto Manguel

The publisher also announced the reissue of Saramago’s works in 2022, which will be launched in three stages on the occasion of the centenary of his birth, which will be celebrated on November 16: January, March and June. The first stage will be available from January 27, with the titles “The gospel according to Jesus Christ”, “Essay on blindness”, “Essay on lucidity”, “The duplicate man”, “The intermittences of death”, “Memorial of the convent”, “Complete poetry” and “All names”. The second installment will feature “Cain”, “The elephant’s journey”, “Almost an object”, “The year of Ricardo Reis’s death”, “Raised from the ground”, “Manual of painting and calligraphy”, “History of Siege of Lisbon ”and“ The Stone Bag ”, on March 17th. Also, in April they will publish the photobiography of José Saramago, and on June 16 will be available “Cuadernos de Lanzarote I”, “Cuadernos de Lanzarote II” and “The small memories”, along with his “Complete Theater” and an illustrated edition of “Trip to Portugal”.

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José Saramago: the centennial year