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Great Authors of Our Time - Jose Saramago
José Saramago is the first Portuguese writer to win the Nobel Prize for literature. He was born in 1922 in Azinhaga, in the Portuguese province of Ribatejo. For financial reasons, he had to abandon his high-school studies and train to be a mechanic. Saramago held a number of manual and civil service jobs. In 1969, he joined the then-illegal Communist Party of Portugal, adopting a critical stance toward it. He became a journalist and an assistant editor at Diário de Notícias, a position which he was forced to leave. Between 1975 and 1980, he supported himself as a translator, but since his literary successes in the 1980s, he has devoted himself completely to his writing. For the past six years, he has been living on Lanzarote, the northeasternmost of the Canary Islands.

Saramago's first published novel, Manual of Painting and Calligraphy, appeared in 1977, and is about the genesis of the artist; the liberation following the fall of the Salazar regime provides the closing vignette. His international breakthrough came in 1982 with the publication of the blasphemous and humorous love story, Baltasar and Blimunda, a novel about the building of a convent in Mafra outside Lisbon in the eighteenth century. The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (1984) takes place in Lisbon in 1936 during the dictatorship, and is constructed as a dialogue between the great Portuguese poet, Fernando Pessoa, and the poet's own alter ego. The Stone Raft (1986) is an allegory of isolationism. A novel about a novel, The History of the Siege of Lisbon (1989) hinges on a proof-reader's impulse to insert a negative into an historical manuscript, thereby reversing the course of historical events. Saramago's most controversial work is The Gospel according to Jesus Christ (1991), and his stunning Blindness (1995) takes us along on a society's descent into barbarism after it is struck by an epidemic of blindness. His recent novel is Todos os nomes (All the Names), which deals with a minor official in a population registration office of almost metaphysical dimensions who becomes obsessed with one of the names.

Saramago's oeuvre of thirty works comprises not only the novels named above, but also poetry, essays, short stories, libretti, diaries, and travelogues. Among others, he has received the most important literary award for Portuguese writers, the Prémio Camoes, which he won in 1995.


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