Friday, June 18, 2010

Jose Saramago

One of my writing heroes has died, at the age of 87.

Jose Saramago wrote books filled with deeply different worlds of poetic beauty, self-mocking humour, horror, and a lyrical penetration of what it is to be human.

"There is no more satisfying smell than that of turned hay, of bodies under a blanket, of oxen feeding at the trough, the scent of cold air filtering through the chinks in the hayloft, and perhaps the scent of the moon, for everyone knows that the night assumes a different smell when there is moonlight, and even a blind man, who is incapable of distinguishing night from day, will say, The moon is shining..."

Baltasar and Blimunda, 1982

"A tree weeps when cut down, a dog howls when beaten, but man matures when offended."

The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, 1991

I've been going through my books to look for more of the quotes that I note, by dog-earing, when I'm reading, but reproducing them can't come close to putting them in their context, which is what frames them. Time to read him again. Baltasar and Blimunda is a good, fantastical starting point; The Gospel of Jesus Christ is terribly funny and illuminating. Blindness is my most dog-eared book, and requires some fortitude, and Seeing is an uncanny commentary on our political reality. And there are more.

I knew nothing about the author's life, apart from what you will always find in his (or her) books. I'd had no idea he was a Communist, nor that after writing a first novel at 23, he'd been silent for another 30 years.

Article in today's New York Times.

I have never been psycho-analysed or seen a therapist (apart from an emergency session many years ago), nor am I knocking the latter when it's needed - but I have always learned in books what I imagine one may learn in a psychologist's office: A certain amount of self knowledge, a better understanding of others, and most importantly, a sense of the greater context in which to put it all.

Saramago is an ├╝ber therapist.


  1. Before there was Freud, there was Aeschylus.

    Being a theater major was great training for being human.

  2. Hi,
    Don't exactly know how I found your blog but I have to say your terrace garden is amazing. That from someone who stands in hot Atlanta summer watering azaleas on a one acre lot! Are you really growing a fig tree in/on a terrace garden? Hats Off!!!

  3. I am so sorry for your loss.

    I believe trees really do weep when cut down. I had dreams of the forsythias crying the night after they were cut down on my property.
    I wonder how he knew this, through experience or something deeper?

  4. I am also a Jose Saramago fan--LOVE his books and my husband is Portuguese so we both felt a loss today when we heard the news.
    Your flowers are as beautiful as always.


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