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 Saramago was disappointed with this work and, after finishing an unpublished novel and working on another one, he gave up writing for two decades.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 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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