Thursday, June 24, 2010
Saramago was a master at exploring a surreal event (the Iberian peninsula breaking off, a city going blind, death dying) and using it to reflect human nature. His allegorical stories could have easily veered into the shallow waters of bad fantasy writing, but they're grounded in actual human emotions and, no matter how weird they get, they still feel real.
Saramago, who died at the age of 87, was a tireless writer who published a new book every couple of years; his last novel, Cain, was published in Portugal last year and should be in English by the end of this year. His most recent book in English is The Notebook, a collection of his blog postings with special focus on the 2008 U.S. Presidential election.
For all of his mourners, there are many people who are not sad to see him go. An editorial in the Vatican newspaper refereed to him as a "populous extremist" and an "anti-religious ideologue." Saramago's 1991 novel The Gospel According to Jesus Christ was attacked by Catholics who felt it inappropriate to portray Jesus as a fallible human being. The Portuguese government refused to submit the novel for any international awards, and Saramago spent the rest of his life living in the Canary Islands. On Sunday, Portugal's conservative president did not attend the funeral of the only Portuguese author to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, but 20,000 other mourners did. Saramago was also accused by the Anti-Defamation League of being anti-Semitic after some explosive comments he made after visiting Palestine.
This "Art of Fiction" interview he did with The Paris Review is required reading. He describes his writing process in great depth.
The Guardian obituary.
An article on his funeral and some of the controversy surrounding him.
The ADL press release on Saramago's comments and David Frum's editorial titled "Death of a Jew Hater."
Info on The Notebook and a review.