All the Names is a nightmarish dystopia filled with nameless people, except for a man known only by his first name, Senhor José, who works in the lowest echelon of a labyrinthine organization called the Central Registry of Births, Marriages, and Deaths. It is the task of this rigid and highly controlled bureaucracy to produce index cards that contain essentially meaningless and impersonal sets of dates and statistics about each individual in the city. The lonely José, whose hobby is to collect information about famous or notorious people, slips into the registry to pick up five more cards, and by chance he also collects a sixth card that records the name and birth, marriage, and divorce dates of an ordinary thirty-six-year-old woman, whose name is never revealed. José feels compelled to learn all he can about her, looking for information from various sources, including the woman’s parents, and even breaking into her old school at night to find further information. In attempting to recover the unknown woman’s identity, José realizes that he has fallen in love with her, but almost at once he locates the final piece of information about her—her death certificate. Understanding that she has committed suicide only a few days earlier, he is left with one final destination, the General Cemetery where she is buried.
The godlike Registrar, who heads the organization, has placed José under surveillance the entire time, but instead of punishing him for his independent investigation, he praises him for bringing positive new changes. The Registrar declares that the files of the living and the dead will no longer be separate, and that the living person’s recovery and recognition of the lives of those who have gone before will be, in its way, an almost metaphysical act of resurrection. Additionally, in returning her name to the files of the living, Senhor José feels he is also recovering the nobility of his own identity, transforming himself from an unprepossessing cog in the machine of the Central Registry into someone of considerable worth.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist 96 (July, 2000): 1976.
The Christian Science Monitor, October 5, 2000, p. 17.
Library Journal 125 (August, 2000): 161.
Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2000, p. 15.
New Statesman 129 (October 4, 1999): 57.
The New York Times Book Review 105 (October 15, 2000): 8.
Publishers Weekly 247 (August 28, 2000): 53.
The Times Literary Supplement, October 15, 1999, p. 26.
The Washington Post Book World, September 24, 2000, p. 15.