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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