José Saramago, the Portuguese writer who won the Nobel Prize in 1998, died at his home in the Canary Islands at age 87.
In its long obituary, the New York Times said that his novels, including Baltasar and Blimunda and Blindness, “combine surrealist experimentation with a kind of sardonic peasant pragmatism.” He was also known “almost as much for his unfaltering Communism as for his fiction.”
Saramago attributed his late-blooming writing career to losing his job in 1975, after the Communist Party lost its brief hold on power following the Carnation Revolution. “Being fired was the best luck of my life,” he told the New York Times Magazine. “It made me stop and reflect. It was the birth of my life as a writer.”
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Mariner have published most of Saramago’s titles in the U.S. The Elephant’s Journey will be released in September.
In April, Verso Books published The Notebook, a journal of sorts covering a year in the author’s life.
We remember vividly that in 1998, the Nobel Prize for Literature was announced during the Frankfurt Book Fair. Saramago had been attending but was on his way home and about to board a flight at the airport when he was told he had won. He returned to the fair, where organizers quickly set up a press conference that was jammed with journalists from around the world, but especially Portuguese and Spanish reporters and camera crews. It was bedlam. Unfazed, Saramago stood in front of the crowd and fielded a mix of thoughtful and inane questions, some of which he deigned not to answer. He was “a tall, commandingly austere man with a dry, schoolmasterly manner,” just as the Times described him. We were lucky to see the performance.
You will be missed and we are a in smaller place without you.