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José Saramago

José SaramagoAKA José de Sousa Saramago

Born: 16-Nov-1922 [1]
Birthplace: Azinhaga, Portugal
Died: 18-Jun-2010
Location of death: Lanzarote, Canary Islands
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Atheist
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Author, Activist
Party Affiliation: See Note [2]

Nationality: Portugal
Executive summary: Brilliant Portuguese novelist

Novelist, playwright, and poet José Saramago was a child of Portuguese peasants, raised in poverty in France, who learned of literature through visits to the public library as often as his parents would allow. His first novel, published in 1947, was not a popular success, and after finishing a second novel, never published, he concluded that he simply had nothing to say and gave up on writing. He supported his family with manual labor, eventually finding positions as an office manager for a publisher, a newspaper editor, a translator of foreign authors' work, and a political commentator. Nearly two decades passed before another book with his byline appeared, a small collection of his poems published to no acclaim in 1966.

He was a life-long Communist, and at serious risk to his safety Saramago became an outspoken leader of the 1974 Carnation Revolution (named for the flowers carried by protesters in lieu of violent action), which toppled the Portuguese dictatorship and installed a democratic government. His breakthrough success came with the blasphemous Baltasar and Blimunda, a 1982 novel about an 18th century romance between an injured soldier and a young clairvoyant. A widely acknowledged masterpiece was his 1984 novel The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, which resurrected the titular character from Fernando Pessoa's fiction and set him amidst the Spanish Civil War and the rise of such tyrants as Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Francisco Franco, and António de Oliveira Salazar. Arguably his best known work, 1991's The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, tells the familiar New Testament story with the twist that Christ was the son of Joseph, not God.

His works were frequently considered controversial, with good reason. He took delight in treading on delicate sensibilities far beyond Portugal's politics, with subversive but often humorous observations on the Vatican, globalization, ecological destruction, social injustice, the heartlessness of bureaucracy, and the cruelty of human greed. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998, after which his readership was vastly increased.

Of his Nobel win, The New York Times pronounced that "No candidate for a Nobel Prize has a better claim to lasting recognition than this novelist", while the Wall Street Journal complained about his "Stalinist past" and the Vatican's official newspaper described him, accurately, as an "inveterate communist with anti-religious views". His Nobel accolade included a cash award of about $950K, of which Saramago said, "This prize is for all speakers of Portuguese, but while we're on the subject, I shall keep the money". He died in 2010.

[1] 18 November 1922 according to his birth certificate, which his family always claimed was erroneous.

[2] Partido Comunista Português (PCP), the Communist Party of Portugal.

Father: José de Sousa (peasant)
Mother: Maria da Piedade (peasant)
Brother: Francisco (b. 1920, d. circa 1925)
Wife: Ilda Reis (typist, m. 1944, div. 1970, d. 1998)
Daughter: Violante (biologist, b. 1947)
Girlfriend: Maria Isabel Gonçalves Bastos (author p/k/a Isabel da Nóbrega, b. 1925, together 1970-86)
Wife: Pilar del Río (journalist, m. 1988)

    Prémio Cidade de Lisboa 1980
    Prémio PEN Club Português 1983, 1984
    Prémio da Crítica da Associação Portuguesa 1986
    Grande Prémio de Romance e Novela 1991
    Prémio Vida Literária 1993
    Camões Prize 1995
Nobel Prize for Literature 1998

Official Website:

Author of books:
Terra do Pecado (The Land of Sin) (1947, novel)
Os Poemas Possíveis (Possible Poems) (1966, poetry)
Provavelmente Alegria (Probably Joy) (1970, poetry)
Deste Mundo e do Outro (From this World and the Other) (1970, essays)
A Bagagem do Viajante (The Traveller's Baggage) (1973, essays)
As Opiniões que o DL teve (The Opinions the DL Had) (1974, essays on the Carnation Revolution)
O Ano de 1993 (The Year 1993) (1975, poetry)
Os Apontamentos (1976, essays)
Manual de Pintura e Caligrafia (Manual of Painting and Calligraphy) (1977, novel)
Objecto Quase (Quasi Object) (1978, short stories)
Levantado do Chão (Risen from the Earth) (1980, novel)
Viagem a Portugal (Journey to Portugal) (1981, essays)
Memorial do Convento (Baltasar and Blimunda) (1982, novel)
O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis) (1986, novel)
A Jangada de Pedra (The Stone Raft) (1986, novel)
História do Cerco de Lisboa (The History of the Siege of Lisbon) (1989, novel)
O Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo (The Gospel According to Jesus Christ) (1991, Biblical novel)
Ensaio sobre a Cegueira (Blindness) (1995, novel)
Todos os Nomes (All the Names) (1997, novel)
O Conto da Ilha Desconhecida (Tale of the Unknown Island) (1997, novel)
Folhas Políticas (Papers on Policy) (1999, essays)
A Caverna (The Cave) (2001, novel)
O Homem Duplicado (The Duplicate Man) (2003, novel)
Ensaio sobre a Lucidez (Seeing) (2004, novel; sequel to Blindness)
As Intermitências da Morte (Death with Interruptions) (2005, novel)
As Pequenas Memórias (Small Memories) (2007, memoir)
A Viagem do Elefante (The Elephant's Journey) (2008, historical novel)
Caim (Cain) (2009, Biblical novel)
O Caderno (The Notebook) (2009, compiled blog entries)
O Caderno 2 (The Notebook 2) (2010, compiled blog entries)

Wrote plays:
A Noite (Nightlife) (1979)
Que Farei Com Este Livro? (What Shall I do with this Book?) (1980)
A Segunda Vida de Francisco de Assis (The Second Life of Francis of Assisi) (1987)
In Nomine Dei (1993)
Don Giovanni, ou o Dissoluto Absolvido (Don Giovanni, or The Dissolute Acquitted) (2005)

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