An interview with Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese novelist José Saramago by Anna Klobucka (2002).
Saramago's long journey toward literary accomplishment and fame was anything but straightforward. Although he debuted as a novelist at an early age - his Terra do Pecado [Land of Sin] was published in 1947 - he then abandoned for nearly thirty years the genre that was to bring him worldwide recognition. When in 1976 Saramago published his second novel, Manual of Painting and Calligraphy, it was subtitled "ensaio de romance," a label that can be translated as both "novel-essay" and "rehearsal for a novel." The latter meaning points to Saramago's notion of writing as an apprenticeship, a laborious process that must be faced with patience and humility.
Although both Saramago and his critics emphasize the formative importance and independent value of his earlier works, for a majority of his readers it was his 1982 historical novel Baltasar and Blimunda (entitled Memorial do Convento in Portuguese) that brought him critical acclaim and a wide readership. It is still perhaps the most widely read and studied of Saramago's novels. It was adapted for the stage by the Italian composer Azio Corghi as the opera Blimunda, which premiered in Milan in 1990. Saramago's unorthodox exploration of historical scenarios, begun with his revisitation of the Portuguese eighteenth century in Baltasar and Blimunda, continued throughout the 1980s and beyond, from the 1930s Portugal of Salazar's dictatorship in The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (1984) to ancient Galilee in The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (1991).
The official reaction to The Gospel - the Portuguese government vetoed its presentation for the European Literary Prize, claiming that it was offensive to Catholics - prompted Saramago and his wife, journalist Pilar del Río, to move to the Spanish island of Lanzarote in the Canaries, where they continue to reside. The 1990s also marked a change in Saramago's work: his novels Blindness (1995), All the Names (1997), and A Caverna [The Cave] (published in late 2000 and not yet available in English) are darkly philosophical parables that are peopled by frequently nameless characters and that unfold in an undefined but dystopian time and space. Their bleakness, however, is never absolute. They share with Saramago's earlier works an underlying affirmative belief in the dynamic, transformative potential of individual human activity, even as they also suggest an increasingly pessimistic vision of the future of the human race.
An unapologetic leftist and to this day a card-carrying Communist, Saramago has never shunned political involvement or controversy. For many decades, he staunchly defended the role of literature as public discourse and the responsibility of artists and intellectuals to take action in the public sphere. The scope of his engagement with the many causes that have attracted his interest and support has not diminished with age. For example, he contributed a foreword to Our Word Is Our Weapon by Subconmandante Marcos, leader of the Zapatista National Liberation Front, the peasant movement in Chiapas, Mexico. If anything, Saramago's visibility as an international spokesperson for what he recently described as "the simple imperative of equal justice for all" has only increased in the years since his Nobel Prize.
You can find the interview here