Study Guide

José Saramago

José Saramago Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

José Saramago (sah-rah-MAH-goh) is Portugal’s best-known and most celebrated writer. He was born to a family of poor farmworkers in the central Portuguese village of Azinhaga. When Saramago was two years old, his family moved to the Portuguese capital of Lisbon. After graduating from technical school in Lisbon, Saramago took a job in an automobile repair shop, where he worked for two years before moving on to a job with the Portuguese Social Welfare Service. He married his first wife, Ilda Reis, in 1944, and their only child was born three years later. During this time, Saramago would regularly spend his after-work hours in the public library, broadening his literary education. He also wrote his first novel, Terra do pecado (land of sin), publishing it in 1947 at the age of twenty-five. Saramago was disappointed with this work and, after finishing an unpublished novel and working on another one, he gave up writing for two decades.

During his silent period, Saramago took a job with a publisher in Lisbon, and this helped him maintain contact with the literary scene. He translated the works of a number of major writers from French to Portuguese. He finally returned to publishing his own writing in 1966 with a book of poetry, Os poemas possíveis (possible poems). He followed this book with his 1970 collection of poems, Provàvelmente alegria (probably joy), and, in 1975, the long poem O ano de 1993 (the year 1993).

In 1969 Saramago joined the Portuguese Communist Party. The decade of the 1970’s was a time of change for Portugal and for Saramago. In 1970 António O. Salazar, who had come to power in Portugal in the 1930’s, died. The dictatorship continued under Prime Minister Marcelo Caetano, who had held control since Salazar suffered a stroke two years earlier. In that same year, Saramago and Reis divorced. Saramago left his publishing job in 1971 and turned to newspaper work. From 1971 to 1973, he worked as an editor at the newspaper Diário de Lisboa and then became deputy director of the Diário de Nóticias until 1975. Most of his nonfiction works during this period are collections of his newspaper writing.

In 1974 a military revolt...

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José Saramago Biography (Survey of Novels and Novellas)

José Saramago was born into a poor family in the village of Azinhaga, Portugal, about sixty miles outside Lisbon on November 16, 1922. His name would actually have been a traditional Portuguese last name (de Sousa), but he accidentally received his father’s nickname Saramago (Portuguese for “wild radish”). In 1924, the family moved to Lisbon.

Saramago has said that he was a good student. His family could not afford to provide him with a general education that emphasized grammar and writing. At the age of twelve, he was forced to enter a technical school, where he studied for five years to become a mechanic. Nonetheless, he was able to take courses in French. During this period, he borrowed money to buy Portuguese grammar books. After completion of his training, he became a mechanic for two years. At night, he would frequent the public library, where his interest and skill in reading poetry and prose literature inspired him to advance his writing skills without being mentored.

In 1944, Saramago married Lida Reis; in 1947, Violante, their only child, was born. It was also in 1947 that Saramago published his first novel, Terra do Pecado, and his only published work for the next twenty years. Saramago himself said that he did not publish during this period because he had nothing worthwhile to say. In 1951, he started work at a publishing firm (Estúdios Cor), where he would meet Portuguese authors. He then began working as a...

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José Saramago Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Born in Azinhaga, a small village northeast of Lisbon, Portugal, José Saramago (sah-rah-MAH-goh) was descended from landless farmers called de Sousa; he was mistakenly registered, however, under the family nickname of “saramago,” a wild radish used by peasants to stave off hunger. Saramago was raised in Lisbon after the age of two, but he still spent much time in the country with his maternal grandparents, who helped shape his character and his ideas. His grandfather Jerónimo in particular regaled the young boy with stories both from the past and from his imagination. At the age of twelve, Saramago’s parents enrolled him in a vocational school to train as an auto mechanic; after graduating in 1939, he worked for two years at a car repair shop. He spent his free time, however, at the public library, pursuing an interest in literature he had developed while at school.

By the time Saramago married Ilda Reis in 1944, he was working in the Social Welfare Service as an administrative civil servant. In 1947, Saramago’s only child, Violante, was born, and that same year he published his first novel, Terra do pecado (the land of sin). In 1949, Saramago was forced out of his civil service post for political reasons, but by the end of the 1950’s he found happier employment as a production manager for a publishing company, a position that lasted twelve years and led to friendships with some of the major Portuguese writers of the time. For the next thirty years he worked as a translator, magazine critic, newspaper columnist, and editor. He also became more politically active, and at the end of the 1960’s he joined the Communist Party, even though it was forbidden under the fascist dictatorship of Portuguese President António de Oliveira Salazar. Saramago did not return to creative writing until 1966, when he published Os poemas possíveis (possible poems). In 1970, he published another book of poems and shortly afterward two collections of his newspaper articles.

In 1970, Saramago and his wife divorced, and he began a sixteen-year relationship with the Portuguese...

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José Saramago Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

All of José Saramago’s novels are a complicated blend of light and dark, including both hope and despair and sustaining an authorial perspective that is unsentimental but nevertheless sensitive to both the sins and the suffering of humanity. Saramago’s later novels build on his earlier deployment of the fantastic and supernatural, but they are more clearly symbolic or allegorical in nature. Saramago’s later writing does not address the past but speaks to the present, but it is a present in which his earlier experiences of the totalitarianism of the Salazar regime have not disappeared but have been inventively reinstated in new and mysterious ways. While his work contains strong elements of pessimism, the various evils that Saramago explores never completely destroy the critical intelligence or sympathetic imagination of individual characters, raising the possibility that the human spirit may triumph over even the most dire adversity.

José Saramago Biography (Short Stories for Students)

Jos Saramago Published by Gale Cengage

José Saramago was born on November 16, 1922, in Azinhaga, Ribatejo, Portugal. He is best known as a novelist, and in 1998 he became the...

(The entire section is 344 words.)