Wednesday, 23 June 2010


My obituary of Jose Saramago is in today's Independent, you can link to it here. Although they gave me plenty of space, it would have been nice to have examined the influence of the Latin American novelists--check out his reviews, perhaps, in the decades when he wasn't writing novels himself. I find the links to Borges, Cortazar, and Vargas Llosa particularly strong; with Borges' getting more and more apparently in the books that followed the Nobel. I probably should have mentioned The Old Man And The Sea in the context of Tale Of The Unknown Island. Saramago is sometimes claimed by sf, and rightly so, but that is a can of wormy labelling I didn't want to open. I would have also liked to mention his translators, because he seems to have been incredibly well-served by them, particularly Giovanni Pontiero and Margaret Jull Costa.

In America, his political views probably attracted more attention than his fiction, and certainly he was a crusty old communist. You can argue that, for a man who used words so carefully, his words often seemed calculated to inflame, or offend, as much as enlighten; I'm sure he would argue that the reaction to his words, even if ill-chosen, simply proved his points. As if to prove that, David 'Axis Of Evil' Frum was typically over-the-top in writing a piece called 'Death Of A Jew-Hater', but made some interesting points about Saramago's position during the years of dictatorship in Portugal; though I'm not sure that, as someone happy to work for a proto-fascist regime, he was the best-placed to pass judgement on them accurately. But he was cogent enough to get me to note the fact that despite his much-publicised exile in protest from Portugal, Saramago quietly continued to maintain a residence in Lisbon, which struckme as practical, if somewhat diluting the scale of the protest. Frum was, however, correct in summarizing that 'no one requires an artist to be a hero' and that posterity will judge Saramago's work on its own merit. And that judgement will likely be extremely positive for years to come.

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