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Raised from the Ground

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Raised from the Ground Cover

ISBN13: 9780151013258
ISBN10: 015101325x
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HERE, ITS MOSTLY countryside, land. Whatever else may be lacking, land has never been in short supply, indeed its sheer abundance can only be explained by some tireless miracle, because the land clearly predates man, and despite its long, long existence, it has still not expired. Thats probably because its constantly changing: at certain times of the year, the land is green, at others, yellow or brown or black. And in certain places it is red, the color of clay or spilled blood. This, however, depends on what has been planted or what has not yet been planted, or what has sprung up unaided and died simply because it reached its natural end. This is not the case with wheat, which still has some life left in it when it is cut. Nor with the cork oak, which, despite its solemn air, is full of life and cries out when its skin is ripped from it.

   There is no shortage of color in this landscape, but it isnt simply a matter of color. There are days as harsh as they are cold, and others when you can scarcely breathe for the heat: the world is never content, the day it is will be the day it dies. The world does not lack for smells either, not even here, which is, of course, part of the world and well provided with land. Were some insignificant creature to die in the undergrowth, it would smell of death and putrefaction. Not that anyone would notice if there were no wind, even if they were to pass close by. The bones would be either washed clean by the rain or baked dry by the sun, or not even that if the creature were very small, because the worms and the gravedigger beetles would have come and buried it.

   This, relatively speaking, is a fair-sized piece of land, and while it begins as undulating hills and a little stream-water, because the water that falls from the skies is just as likely to be feast as famine, farther on it flattens out as smooth as the palm of your hand, although many a hand, by lifes decree, tends, with time, to close around the handle of a hoe, sickle or scythe. The land. And like the palm of a hand, it is crisscrossed by lines and paths, its royal or, later, national roads, or those owned by the gentlemen at the town hall, three such roads lie before us now, because three is a poetical, magical, spiritual number, but all the other paths arise from repeated comings and goings, from trails formed by bare or ill-shod feet walking over clods of earth or through undergrowth, stubble or wild flowers, between wall and wasteland. So much land. A man could spend his whole life wandering about here and never find himself, especially if he was born lost. And he wont mind dying when his time comes. He is no rabbit or genet to lie and rot in the sun, but if hunger, cold or heat were to lay him low in some secluded spot, or one of those illnesses that dont even give you time to think, still less cry out for help, sooner or later he would be found.

   Many have died of war and other plagues, both here and in other parts, and yet the people we see are still alive: some perceive this as an unfathomable mystery, but the real reasons lie in the land, in this vast estate, this latifundio, that rolls from high hills down to the plain below, as far as the eye can see. And if not this land, then some other piece of land, it really doesnt matter as long as weve sorted out whats mine and thine: everything was recorded in the census at the proper time, with boundaries to the north and south and to the east and west, as if this were how it had been ordained since the world began, when everything was simply land, with only a few large beasts and the occasional human being, all of them frightened. It was around that time, and later too, that the future shape of this present land was decided, and by very crooked means indeed, a shape carved out by those who owned the largest and sharpest knives and according to size of knife and quality of blade. For example, those of a king or a duke, or of a duke who then became his royal highness, a bishop or the master of an order, a legitimate son or the delicious fruit of bastardy or concubinage, a stain washed clean and made honorable, or the godfather of a mistresss daughter, and then theres that other high officer of the court with half a kingdom in his grasp, and sometimes it was more a case of, this, dear friends, is my land, take it and populate it to serve me and your offspring, and keep it safe from infidels and other such embarrassments. A magnificent book-of-hours-cum-sacred-accounts-ledger presented at both palace and monastery, prayed to in earthly mansions or in watchtowers, each coin an Our Father, ten coins a Hail Mary, one hundred a Hail Holy Queen, Mary is King. Deep coffers, bottomless silos, granaries the size of ships, vats and casks, coffers, my lady, and all measured in cubits, rods and bushels, in quarts, pottles and tuns, each piece of land according to its use.

   Thus flowed the rivers and the four seasons of the year, on those one can rely, even when they vary. The vast patience of time and the equally vast patience of money, which, with the exception of man, is the most constant of all measurements, although, like the seasons, it varies. We know, however, that men were bought and sold. Each century had its money, each kingdom its man to buy and sell for maravedis, or for gold and silver marks, reals, doubloons, cruzados, sovereigns or florins from abroad. Fickle, various metal, as airy as the bouquet of a flower or of wine: money rises, thats why it has wings, not in order to fall. Moneys rightful place is in a kind of heaven, a lofty place where the saints change their names when they have to, but not the latifundio.

   A mother with full breasts, fit for large, greedy mouths, a womb, the land shared out between the largest and the large, or, more likely, joining large with larger, through purchase or perhaps through some alliance, or through sly theft, pure crime, the legacy of my grandparents and my good father, God rest their souls. It took centuries to get this far, who can doubt that it will always remain the same?

   But who are these other people, small and disparate, who came with the land, although their names do not appear in the deeds, dead souls perhaps, or are they still alive? Gods wisdom, beloved children, is infinite: there is the land and those who will work it, go forth and multiply. Go forth and multiply me, says the latifundio. But there is another way to speak of all this.

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Nieyda, January 4, 2013 (view all comments by Nieyda)
What I found after finishing 'Raised From the Ground' was that the history of the nation of Portugal, and truly, of any nation in history, is a story best told not by its politicians, but by its people, by those "two million sighs rising up from the ground," as Saramago puts it. In this novel we have one of those stories, told to us in beautiful prose by a man who clearly loved the subject -sometimes difficult to get through, but ultimately worth the effort.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780151013258
Author:
Saramago, Jose
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH)
Author:
Costa, Margaret Jull
Author:
Pontiero, Giovanni
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Historical
Subject:
Folklore
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Cloth
Publication Date:
20121231
Binding:
Paperback
Language:
English
Pages:
384
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in

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Product details 384 pages Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) - English 9780151013258 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

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.

"Review" by , "Reading the Portuguese writer José Saramago, one quickly senses the presence of a master."
"Review" by , "Offers insights into the renowned author and his native land."
"Review" by , "Saramago's poetic and political fans of the English-speaking world will unite in appreciation for this long-awaited translation."
"Review" by , "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."
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