Pilar del Río: ‘Saramago was a radical feminist’

Pilar del Río is visiting Argentina.

“The work of Saramago in this centenary it is as if it had blossomed, suddenly it opens…we had it there and now we rediscover it, giving off a magnificent language and current aroma”, says Pilar del Río, wife and translator into Spanish of the work of the Nobel Prize winner Literature, who came to Argentina to participate in a series of tributes paid to the Portuguese writer in the book Fairone of the many scales that the scaffolding of tributes has projected for this year, when it is one hundred years since his birth.

Visiting the Buenos Aires Book Fair, the president of the Saramago Foundation tells Télam that with the dissemination of the centenary of the birth of the author of “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” “more than 190 acts in more than 50 countries have already been carried out worldwide“, between presentations of books and plays of his authorship. “We do not have the capacity to organize an event in Korea, the Philippines or Turkey, but they have been done, they have come out and the news reaches us. Saramago is alive,” says the executor of the work of the novelist, poet, playwright and essayist.

One of the most important actions for the centenary of Saramago (Azinhaga, 1922-Lanzarote, 2010) is the reissue of his complete work and the publication for the first time in Spanish of “La viuda”, the novel that the author wrote at the age of 26 , and whose protagonist is a woman who, when her husband dies, must make her way as the manager of the farm that her husband was in charge of, as a mother and a woman who will seek a second chance in love.

The philosophical tone of this initiatory novel is what will later be reflected in the author’s work with such a personal style that will become evident from “Raised from the ground” (1980), to which was later added “The year of the death of Ricardo Reis” (1984) and “The stone raft” (1986) and the storybook “Casi un object” (1978).

“Saramago. their names”, by Alejandro García Schnetzer and Ricardo Viel, is another of the books that these days pays tribute to the memory of the writer and journalist: a biographical album that brings together unpublished material, photographs and texts of the Nobel Prize winner and explores his first years of life, his humble origins, the many cities he traveled to, the writers he admired, as well as the thought of a man committed to his time.

The book, edited by Alfaguara, combines texts by the writer that emerged from his books and interviews, with 500 photographs, many of them unpublished, and brings together 200 names that allude to the world of the author and includes in that universe the cinema, painting or books that nurtured him and the events of the 20th century that marked his political thinking such as the so-called “Carnation Revolution” that led to the fall of the dictatorship in Portugal in April 1974 and the emergence of democracy.

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To immerse yourself in the book is to gain first-hand access to the writer’s confessions, in texts where he tells the story of his family, humble peasants without land, the tiny house of their own in which they lived with their family, only when they were 13 or 14 years old; his studies, the lack of economic possibilities that only allowed him to enter a professional training school where he learned the trade of a mechanical locksmith; and the purchase of his first book, at age 19, with borrowed money.

The text also reveals the literary influences it received from the pens of writers such as Federico García Lorca, Franz Kafka, Rafael Alberti or Fernando Pessoa, and from philosophers, painters, filmmakers and dancers such as María Pagés, Pedro Almodóvar, Federico Fellini, Paco Ibáñez or Frederic Chopin.

“We are realizing that we are lucky to have a contemporary who is going to be 100 years old who helps us and stimulates us as readers and citizens“, maintains Del Río as a balance of the different tributes that are taking place for the “Saramago year”.


– Télam: In the year of the centenary of Saramago’s birth, how do you think his work is resized, which seems more current every day?

– Pillar of the River: You just said it, every day it seems more current. I think that in some way the work of José Saramago in this centenary is as if it had blossomed, suddenly it opens… We had it there and now we rediscover it, giving off a magnificent language and current aroma.

– T: One of your works, “Essay on blindness”, was one of the best sellers in the pandemic. Seeing that the pandemic left the rich richer and the poor poorer. What reflection do you make about that situation?

-PR: Without wishing to correct, I say that this book was one of the most read and consulted works, but not sold, because everything was closed. José Saramago has written “Essay on blindness” to describe a world of the blind in which human beings, even seeing, do not see. We have had a pandemic and it seemed that suddenly we were going to take advantage of that time to resettle ourselves, to restart ourselves so that the universe would be more suitable for all people: that the poor would stop being so poor and the rich would not necessarily have to be so rich. In the end, I think the opposite has happened: we have lost jobs, we have lost possibilities, stability, we have gained psychological conflicts. I think right now that those who have more work are psychologists and psychiatrists because we are all insane in some way, and the rich are richer and the poor are poorer, until one day there is an attack of lucidity. Saramago after “Essay on blindness” wrote “Essay on lucidity” and it is possible that we are lucid, but for that we have to be brave.

– T: One of the works that was published for the first time in Spanish for this centenary is “La viuda”. What was the role of women in society for Saramago?

-PR: Saramago was a feminist and a radical feminist and said that any man who did not speak out clearly and openly against ill-treatment was an accomplice in ill-treatment. She left it said in writing, orally and participated in demonstrations. “The Widow” was published when she was 26 years old, but the publisher changed its name because it said it was not a commercial title. I then thought that the publisher was perhaps right, because it was the year 47 and there were many widows in the world due to World War II. Perhaps out of respect for widows, the publisher did not want to publish a book with that title, but it is my opinion that I now make. Then the book was published under the name “Terra do sin” and was not widely accepted. Now with the Spanish translation we have realized that it is a great book.

– T: How was the work in view of the centennial celebration, how did you have it as president of the Foundation and executor of your work?

-PR: We thought that we could start commemorating the centenary in the year before the birth and so we planned, we talked to institutions because we don’t have money: the foundation lives off copyrights, but we could never put on a big concert or an opera. We began to talk with the production companies, institutions and suddenly it was the reading clubs, the José Saramago chair, the theaters that began to ask for the possibility of representing their works and when we realized it, it was surprising. From the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Portugal we were informed more than three weeks ago that more than 190 events related to Saramago had been held in more than 50 countries around the world, this means dynamics and plurality. We launch, we give, we contact, we are always available but we do not have the capacity to organize an event in Korea, the Philippines or Turkey, but they have been done, they have come out, the news reaches us. Saramago is alive.

– T: You lived with the writer for 15 years. How was your translation work with him?

-PR: We worked together and sometimes we argued, I always tell it with laughter because at a specific moment I said ‘my marriage or my profession’, and then I decided never to ask him anything again because to all the translators when they asked him something he said: ‘yes, well , this word is due to this matter’, and I said to myself, how can you think of saying such nonsense! So I chose marriage and the translation problems I solved on my own. Carlos Fuentes was in our house in Lanzarote and on one occasion he defined it very well, because he told him ‘what luck to be able to spend time with your translator who is assisting in the creation process’.

We would like to give thanks to the author of this short article for this remarkable material

Pilar del Río: ‘Saramago was a radical feminist’