Monday, June 29, 2009

The books that changed my life (4)

In 1998, Jose Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In that same year, Philippine bookstores stocked up on the novels of Saramago. And people started buying his novels, only to be put off by what seems to be an unpopular style of writing.

Aside from the long paragraphs, Saramago doesn't make use of full stops and other punctuation marks whenever these are needed. Also, character's dialogues aren't set off by quotation marks, and one has to pay close attention to determine which character is speaking. Just go over the paragraph below and try to discern the two people speaking to each other.
But all she said, in a natural voice, with no particular intonation, deliberately neutral, as straightforward as the four words she uttered, This book belongs to you, she took a long pause and added, this time putting greater emphasis on certain syllables, Let me rephrase that, This is your book. Confused, Raimundo Silva raised his head, Mine, he asked, Yes, it's the only remaining copy of The History of the Siege of Lisbon that does not carry an erratum, the only copy which still claims that the crusaders refused to help the Portuguese, I don't understand, Don't you mean you're stalling until you decide how you should speak to me, Forgive me, that was not my intention, No need to justify yourself, you can't spend your entire life offering excuses, I was only hoping that you might ask me why I'm giving you this copy without an erratum, a book with preserves the deception, that makes no attempt to remove this error of falsehood, the choice of word is up to you, Then tell me, why are you giving me this book, Too late, I no longer feel like telling you, but she was smiling as she spoke, notwithstanding a certain tension in the way she moved her lips, I beseech you, he insisted, returning her smile, and he was surprised to find himself smiling in such a situation.
Didn't you get a high just reading that? And notice that there's only one full stop in the selection, and the dialogues and all other clauses are set off by commas.

The first Saramago novel I've read was The History of the Siege of Lisbon, and it has remained one of my favorite books. It centers on a proofreader, who consciously alters a word in the history manuscript that he's checking, thus altering one of the key historical moments in the history of Portugal. Another novel that highly appealed to my Catholic sensibilities was The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, which was a very engaging, albeit blasphemous, read.

Saramago's topics can range from the mundane to the political, which is something the Nobel Committee has a soft spot for. In The Stone Raft, a novel written at the time of Portugal's joining the European Union, the Iberian peninsula separates from the continent and travels across the ocean. Saramago also delves into romance and history in Baltasar and Blimunda, one of his more popular works.

The key to reading Saramago is to free up your mind and just read the text. Yes, the lack of punctuation may become tedious at some points, but it's the playfulness of Saramago's narrative that you eventually learn to love. His writing is lyrical and breathtaking, and you become immersed completely in the details of the story. Who says that we have to be bound by strict rules of usage and form to be understood?


Tina said...

Peter...thanks for the insight. I have several Saramago works waiting to be read and must get to them soon. I'm thinking I'll start with the Journey to Portugal...that one doesn't look as deep. Blindness is the other one I MUST read. Have you read it yet?

rise said...

Saramago - what an original! The Gospel According to Jesus Christ is my favorite. I've read 4 by him so far. And 2 more (The Stone Raft, Ricardo Reis) in my to-read pile. I'm secure in the knowledge that I will read more of him. *_*

Peter Michael C. Sandico said...

@Tina: Hi Tina! Yes, I've read Blindness and it was a very satisfying read!

@Rise: Yes, Saramago is truly very original.

Mirek Sopek said...

Peter, Honesty is the most important thing when we blog. So - I must admit my impression of Saramago's writting was bad. I must say that the only book I read was "Blindness" (My review is here).
Knowing that he is not just anybody in literature - I was wondering - what is the truth about Saramgos's writing? Should I read some other book?
What do you think about Blindness ?