José Saramago

2 minute read
Harold Bloom

José Saramago, who died June 18 at 87, was a man of imaginative force. He was the first Portuguese-language writer to win the Nobel Prize and is probably best known now for Blindness–an interesting antitotalitarian allegory.

But the novels that mean the most to me still, and that I hope I will find time in my remaining years to read yet again (though I know some of them almost by heart), are The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis–Reis being an imaginary character, one of the heteronyms of the great Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, who died when Saramago was a child–the wonderfully comic and highly romantic The History of the Siege of Lisbon and the hilarious and powerful, ironic and satiric The Stone Raft.

And then, of course, there’s his masterpiece–though we had a correspondence disagreeing about his interpretation vs. my interpretation–the rather wonderful seriocomic novel The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. It’s a very powerful and, I think, permanent book.

The Achilles’ heel of this brilliant and skeptical intellect was that he had grown up in Salazar’s Portugal, a fascist dictatorship. By the time he was a young man, the Salazar dictatorship–which was fascist through and through–was at its height and really awful indeed. It drove him into the only effective resistance, the Communist Party of Portugal, which for decades was a bastion of unredeemed Stalinism.

Yet Saramago wrote marvelous novels. He was a permanent novelist. He was too a charming and irreverent fellow. I will miss him.

Bloom is the author of the forthcoming Till I End My Song: A Gathering of Last Poems

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