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Novelist Jose Saramago dies at 87


Story by Jack Foley

PORTUGUESE novelist Jose Saramago has died at the age of 87, his publisher has announced.

The acclaimed writer, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998, is perhaps best known for his 1995 novel, Blindness, which was recently turned into a film starring Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore by Fernando Meirelles.

A Communist and atheist, Saramago only gained recognition for his work in his fifties. But he was both loved and hated for the provocative content of his novels.

The author moved to Lanzarote in the early 1990s , for instance, in response to opposition from Portugal’s right-wing government to his controversial work The Gospel According to Jesus Christ.

The administration barred his work from being entered in the European Literary Prize, claiming that it was “offensive to Catholics”.

Born into a family of landless peasants in Azinhaga, Portugal, in November 1922, Saramgo had a difficult journey to success.

He attended technical college, worked as a mechanic, a translator and then as a journalist for the newspaper Diário de Notícias before publishing his first novel, the commercially unsuccessful Terra do Pecado (Country of Sin) in 1947. The novel was a tale of peasants in crisis.

However, despite having to wait for recognition and fame, Saramago bided his time and made a successful return to fiction later in life when he first won international acclaim for his 1983 fantasy Memorial do Convento, which was published in English in 1988 as Baltasar and Blimunda.

His final book, Caim (English title, Cain) was published at the end of last year and earlier this year he published a compilation of blog entires, entitled El Cuaderno, or The Notebook, which included criticisms of Tony Blair and the Pope.

He had been due to appear at Edinburgh’s book festival in August.

Following the turning of his novel Blindness into a movie, director Mereilles recalled working with Saramgo with affection.

He told IndieLondon while promoting the film that the author had helped in the creation of the movie and had been moved to tears by its final appearance.

“He saw it right after Cannes. I took the film to Lisbon because he couldn’t come to Cannes. I showed him in a very bad cinema screen in Lisbon and when the film finished he wouldn’t say anything.

“He was sitting next to me and he wouldn’t talk! I was sure he hated the film and didn’t know how to tell me. But then the lights came on and he was crying. He said he was as happy to see the film as he was when he finished writing the book.”

Read the full interview