Saturday, June 20, 2009

Death with Interruptions

by Jose Saramago

Blurb from the Dust Jacket: On the first day of the new year, no one dies. This of course, causes consternation among politicians, religious leaders, morticians, and doctors. Among the general public, on the other hand, there is celebration - flags are hung out on balconies, people dance in the streets. They have achieved the great goal of humanity: eternal life.

Jose Saramago, a Nobel prize winning Portuguese author who is now 86 years old has a style uniquely his own. His sentences run on for paragraphs or even pages, there is not much punctuation used and any dialog is imbedded in the run on sentences so it is sometimes difficult to tell who is saying what. His focus is not a strong fast moving plot or extensive in depth character development. The author definitely makes his presence felt and I have heard my friends remark that he makes himself too evident in the writing and that he was just showing off but should just let the story speak for itself with out intruding. But if you enjoy a different style once in a while Saramago is wonderful and one of my favorite authors.

I love his beautiful use of language, his acerbic wit, and his social satire. The time and locations are rarely identified and characters are often unnamed making the stories seem more like a fable. He takes a big question such as what would happen if everyone went blind (Blindness) or the Iberian Peninsula became unattached from Europe and floats off (Stone Raft) and sees where it takes him. In Death with Interruptions, his latest work (2008) translated into English, the question is what if Death stopped? The first part of the book looks at this situation from the big picture view point and explores what this would mean for politicians, the Church, funeral directors, grave diggers, insurance companies, nursing homes and the mafia. In the second part of the book we meet death, with a small not capital d. I don’t want to give too much away but she, yes death is a she, is faced with a situation she has never had to face before. At the end of this fable humans have a much better appreciation of death and death has a better understanding of humans.

This is not one of my favorite Saramago books and probably not where I would recommend someone start but I thoroughly enjoyed it and will continue to read whatever Saramago publishes. My favorite is All the Names which I selected for my book club and was well received. Blindness seems to be very popular and would be a good place to begin but please don’t see the movie first!

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