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Raised from the Groundby Jose Saramago
One of the late Nobel laureate's earlier novels, Raised from the Ground was originally published in Saramago's native Portuguese in 1980 but has only now been posthumously translated into English. Set in the Alentejo region of Portugal, the novel follows three generations of the Mau-Tempo family on the latifundio (a large, mostly agrarian estate) as they toil away in the wheat fields. Despite enduring rural poverty, financial insecurity, class divisions, punishing labor, and the punitive caprices of overseer, church, and state, the Mau-Tempos sought to lead fulfilling lives only to be thwarted often by any number of seemingly ceaseless hardships.
Saramago's own grandparents (Jerónimo and Josefa) were illiterate and landless peasants, and they obviously served as inspiration for both the plot and the lively characters of Raised from the Ground. In his Nobel Prize lecture, Saramago described his grandfather as "the wisest man I ever knew." During the same speech, in talking about this very novel, he continued:
And it was with such men and women risen from the ground, real people first, figures of fiction later, that I learned how to be patient, to trust and to confide in time, that same time that simultaneously builds and destroys us in order to build and once more to destroy us.
Raised from the Ground is one of Saramago's most plaintive and personal tales, with strong characters as much at the whim of external forces as any in his other novels. Beginning around the late 1800s and spanning the better part of a century through the coup that deposed Salazar, the story follows the family's generations as each strives to overcome the past and seek for themselves a life easier than the ones their forebears knew. Forever facing the misfortunes and daily humiliations that marked their years (including the ongoing threat of violence and imprisonment), the Mau-Tempos endeavored and, quite literally, labored for their lives.
Of all of his novels, it is within Raised from the Ground that Saramago most thinly veils his opinions about politics. As individuals (including one of the Mau-Tempos) attempt to organize on behalf of latifundio workers throughout the region, they are met with immediate repression and draconian reprisals. When the tenets of communism begin to gain in popularity, both the state and church implement tactics of fear and oppression to stifle the growing opposition. Saramago shades his novel with allusions to actual historical events, including, most notably, the Carnation Revolution that ushered in an entirely new era of Portuguese cultural and political life.
Throughout Raised from the Ground, Saramago explores many of the themes that would so singularly characterize and bring great acclaim to his later works. His unique grammatical and prose stylings are present but somewhat less masterfully asserted than they would come to be in subsequent novels. In more ways than one, Raised from the Ground bears similarity to the writings of John Steinbeck, a fellow author for whom the politics of labor were not so easily divorced from everyday life. Raised from the Ground is a beautiful, however sorrowful, novel, the likes of which Saramago was so adept at creating. From his humble beginnings to the pinnacle of his literary accomplishments, Saramago appeared to approach his life with dignity, compassion, and a yearning for justice — three qualities to be found in abundance within this timeless tale of the human condition.
Although most of his books have been available in English for some time, there still remains a fair amount of as-yet unrendered works well deserving of translation (including poetry, diaries, short stories, a children's book, and at least two novels). Earlier this year, Claraboya, a "lost" Saramago novel written nearly 60 years ago, was published for the first time (in both Portuguese and Spanish) and is likely slated for an English translation. Fans of his remarkable career that have not yet done so are strongly encouraged to seek out Miguel Gonçalves Mendes's 2010 documentary José y Pilar, a gorgeous, touching film about Saramago and his wife, Pilar del Rio.
Every day has its story, a single minute would take years to describe, as would the smallest gesture, the careful peeling away of each word, each syllable, each sound, not to mention thoughts, which are things of great substance, thinking about what you think or thought or are thinking, and about what kind of thought it is exactly that thinks about another thought, it's never-ending.
Recommended by Jeremy, Powell's City of Books
Synopses & Reviews
A multigenerational family saga that paints a sweeping portrait of twentieth-century Portugal.
First published in 1980, the City of Lisbon Prize-winning Raised from the Ground follows the changing fortunes of the Mau Tempo family — poor landless peasants not unlike Saramago's own grandparents. Set in Alentejo, a southern province of Portugal known for its vast agricultural estates, the novel charts the lives of the Mau Tempos as national and international events rumble on in the background — the coming of the republic in Portugual, the two World Wars, and an attempt on the dictator Salazars life. Yet nothing really impinges on the grim reality of the farm laborers lives until the first communist stirrings.
Finally available in English, Raised from the Ground is Saramago's most deeply personal novel, the book in which he found the signature style and voice that distinguishes all of his brilliant work.
"Reading the Portuguese writer José Saramago, one quickly senses the presence of a master." The Christian Science Monitor
"Offers insights into the renowned author and his native land." Kirkus
"Saramago's poetic and political fans of the English-speaking world will unite in appreciation for this long-awaited translation." Booklist
"Saramago is arguably the greatest writer of our time....He has the power to throw a dazzling flash of lightning on his subjects, an eerily and impossibly prolonged moment of clarity that illuminates details beyond the power of sunshine to reveal." Chicago Tribune
About the Author
José Saramago (1922-2010) was the author of many novels, among them Blindness, All the Names, Baltasar and Blimunda, and The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. In 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Margaret Jull Costa has established herself as the premier translator of Portuguese literature into English today.
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