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The Gospel According to Saramago
Partly in response to the Portuguese government's refusal to endorse the nomination of The Gospel according to Jesus Christ for the European Literary Prize, in 1993 Saramago moved with his Spanish-born wife to Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands. That year, he also started writing a diary, which has now reached five volumes, and which he vows to continue producing annually as long as he is able to do so. Entitled Cadernos de Lanzarote (Lanzarote Notebooks), Saramago's diary includes not only the author's notes on his life and work, especially his work-in-progress, but also substantial comments from both his admirers and detractors. In fact, Saramago's at times rather combative interaction with his reader makes his diary an invaluable record of his interpretation of his literary reception.

The first three excerpts are from Volume I (1994); the fourth from Volume II (1995); and the fifth from Volume IV (1997). The fourth excerpt was written during Saramago's trip to Edmonton in 1994, where he addressed a meeting of the International Comparative Literature Association. This was his second visit to Canada; the first was to Toronto in 1991 to speak about his work at a Portuguese-Canadian social club.

21 April 1993

A copy of the second edition of In nomine Dei has arrived. Five thousand more copies, which will be added to the ten thousand from the first edition. I ask: what is happening that a play attracts so many people? Is it no longer only the novel that interests readers? Is this connected only to the simple loyalty of those who've become used to reading me? Or is it that, in this time of violence and frivolity, the "great questions" continue to gnaw at the soul, or the spirit, or the intelligence ("to mull over in the mind" is an expression with tremendous power) of those who don't wish to conform? If that is so, I hope that they will feel well served by my Essay on Blindness...

2 May 1993

How is it possible to believe in God as the creator of the Universe if the same God created the human species? In other words, the existence of man is precisely the proof of the nonexistence of God.

13 August 1993

I continue to work on Essay on Blindness. After a fitful beginning, without direction or style, searching for words like the most inept of apprentices, things seem to want to improve. As happened in all my previous novels, every time I pick up this one I must return to the first line; I reread and correct, correct and reread, with a stubborn fastidiousness which mellows over time. This is the reason that the first chapter of a book is always the one that takes me the longest. As long as those few initial pages don't satisfy me, I'm incapable of continuing. I take as a good sign the recurrence of this pondering. Oh, if people only knew the work that gave me the opening page of Ricardo Reis; how much I had to suffer because of what became the second chapter of History of the Siege, before I realized that I could begin with a dialogue between Raimundo Silva and the historian... And another second chapter, that of The Gospel, that never-ending night, that lamp, that chink in the door...

20 August 1994

Not being able to travel to see the natural beauty of the Rocky Mountains, we went to visit another wonder closer at hand, the famous West Edmonton Mall, advertised everywhere, including the conference's promotional literature, as the largest shopping and entertainment centre in the world. In fact, as would've happened with the Rocky Mountains, no description is possible. I suppose that a whole day, even walking at a brisk pace, would not be enough to cover all that tangle of gorges, restaurants, valleys, fountains, roller coasters, plateaus, bars, water parks, tropical beaches, electronic games, escalators, ice skating rinks-and shops, shops, shops, shops. Thousands and thousands of people of all ages, either on foot or in electric carts to go faster, the vacant look on their faces suddenly excited by the appetite to buy, move through those endless arcades as if obeying an irresistible tropism. A mortal sadness enters my body just from seeing them. I watch the performances by little dolphins; stare at a galleon anchored in an indoor lake along whose bottom glide yellow submarines on rails; observe the skaters circling the rink; find myself counting the number of children who violently shoot out of a metal tube, sliding into the water as if belched out; marvel at the gently sloped beach, where the waves dissipate with an absolutely natural elegance thanks to a hidden mechanism which produces the motion. Needless to say, the sand is not sand but a smooth plastic canvas, and the environment, in its humidity and heat, is absolutely Caribbean. Outside the burning and humid enclosure, where hundreds of people swim enthusiastically, the air is cold like in the Rocky Mountains. I'm the only necktie in the whole West Edmonton Mall.

21 July 1996

[When a Spanish magazine asked a series of writers for their "literary tree of life", Saramago responded with the following list:] Luis de Camôes, because, as I wrote in The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, all Portuguese roads lead to him; Father António Vieira, because the Portuguese language was never more beautiful than when he wrote it; Cervantes, because without him, the Iberian Peninsula would be a house without a roof; Montaigne, because he didn't need Freud to know who he was; Voltaire, because he lost his illusions about humanity and survived it all; Raul Brandao, because he demonstrated that it wasn't necessary to be a genius to write a brilliant book, Húmus; Fernando Pessoa, because the door through which one reaches him is the door through which one reaches Portugal; Kafka, because he proved that man is a beetle; Eça de Queiroz, because he taught irony to the Portuguese; Jorge Luis Borges, because he invented virtual literature; Gogol, because he contemplated human life and found it sad. 

With the exception of citations from Baltasar and Blimunda/O memorial do convento and The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis/O ano da morte de Ricardo Reis, all translations from the Portuguese are by Albert Braz.


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