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The Lives of Thingsby Jose Saramago
Originally published in Portuguese in 1978 (as Objecto Quase), The Lives of Things collects six short stories that are amongst the earliest of José Saramago's writings to have yet been translated into English. Released the year after Manual of Painting and Calligraphy (long out of print in English, but recently republished) and some four years before his epic Baltasar and Blimunda, The Lives of Things finds the Portuguese Nobel laureate experimenting with and developing the style that would later come to define his career. Saramago seldom wrote in the short story format, so in addition to glimpsing some of his earlier writing, this volume also makes for a curious entry in a body of work made up of predominantly full-length novels.
As with much of his fiction, the half dozen tales in The Lives of Things are richly imagined allegories, a few of which are informed by Saramago's characteristic political sensibilities. The collection's first story, "The Chair," is a thinly veiled reference to longtime Portuguese prime minister António de Oliveira Salazar (whose repressive and authoritarian regime informed much of Saramago's work), and the resulting brain hemorrhage he suffered after falling from a chair. "Embargo" (the inspiration for a 2010 Portuguese film of the same name) is a clever story about a man unable to depart from his automobile, despite his best intentions and futile attempts. "Things," the book's longest story, blends elements often associated with both Kafka and Orwell into a surreal tale of governmental fearmongering and excess. "Reflux" is a satire similar to Jacques Jouet's Mountain R (though predating it by a quarter century) in which the government undertakes an ambitious project notably lacking in sensibility. "The Centaur," earlier anthologized in Telling Tales (a 2004 collection edited by fellow Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer to raise funds for international HIV/AIDS research, education, and treatments), imagines the extinction of the mythical centaur, as the last of its kind is pursued and hunted down.
While The Lives of Things does not carry within it the import or brilliance of Saramago's later and more accomplished works, it does afford readers a unique look into his development as a writer. Already evident in these stories are Saramago's unrestrained imagination and expressive charm, as well as an incipient style that would distinguish his fiction and attract accolades aplenty. The Lives of Things leaves one wondering whether Saramago, always the engaging storyteller, could have excelled as greatly in the short story format as he did with their lengthier brethren had he invested himself as deeply in the medium. As an author whose output included journalism, poetry, drama, travel writing, essays, and diaries, the answer is a seemingly affirmative one, since Saramago, perhaps above all, tirelessly sought to capture and consider the many (often conflicting) aspects of what being human is all about.
*Rendered from the Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero, Saramago's longtime English translator until his death in 1996.
Synopses & Reviews
The Lives of Things collects José Saramago’s early experiments with the short story form, attesting to the young novelist’s imaginative power and incomparable skill in elaborating the most extravagant fantasies. Combining bitter satire, outrageous parody and Kafkaesque hallucinations, these stories explore the horror and repression that paralyzed Portugal under the Salazar regime and pay tribute to human resilience in the face of injustice and institutionalized tyranny.
Beautifully written and deeply unsettling, The Lives of Things illuminates the development of Saramago’s prose and records the genesis of themes that resound throughout his novels.
"This collection (first published in 1978) from the late Portuguese Nobel Prize for Literature-winner Saramago (The Cave) presents some of the author's early work. Here, the literary lion experiments with shorter, more inventive forms, and the results are lucid and impressive, if occasionally uneven. Political allegory and its frequent bedfellows (the absurd and the Kafkaesque) are easily discernible here — in the excellent and unsettling 'Things,' we follow an anxiety-ridden civil servant living in a dystopian state in which objects begin behaving ominously. The story, wonderfully reminiscent of Gogol's 'The Nose,' opens with a nurse who must administer to a settee that has been overheating — 'He prepare the syringe, suck in the contents of a large ampoule and briskly the needle into the settee.' In 'Embargo,' a shortage of petrol and the attendant 'panic, the hours of waiting, the endless queues of cars' causes a man's vehicle to ruthlessly immobilize him, like Gregor Samsa in the dawn of his metamorphoses vainly attempting to roll over. Though not every story is successful — 'The Chair''s exhausting fragmentation and heavy-handed politics may test some readers' patience — Saramago's considerable talent is clearly manifest. (Apr. 25)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
A surreal short story collection from the master of what-ifs.
About the Author
The Portuguese Nobel Laureate José Saramago was a novelist, playwright and journalist. His numerous books, including the bestselling All the Names, Blindness, and The Cave, have been translated into more than forty languages and have established him as one of the world's most influential writers. He died in June 2010.
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