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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel



There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »
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    Juliet's Nurse

    Lois Leveen 9781476757445

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Death with Interruptions

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ISBN13: 9780547247885
ISBN10: 0547247885
Condition: Standard
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Excerpt

The following day, no one died. this fact, being
absolutely contrary to lifes rules, provoked enormous and, in

the circumstances, perfectly justifiable anxiety in peoples minds,

for we have only to consider that in the entire forty volumes of

universal history there is no mention, not even one exemplary

case, of such a phenomenon ever having occurred, for a whole

day to go by, with its generous allowance of twenty- four hours,

diurnal and nocturnal, matutinal and vespertine, without one

death from an illness, a fatal fall, or a successful suicide, not one,

not a single one. Not even from a car accident, so frequent on

festive occasions, when blithe irresponsibility and an excess of

alcohol jockey for position on the roads to decide who will reach

death first. New years eve had failed to leave behind it the usual

calamitous trail of fatalities, as if old atropos with her great

bared teeth had decided to put aside her shears for a day. There

was, however, no shortage of blood. Bewildered, confused, distraught,

struggling to control their feelings of nausea, the firemen

extracted from the mangled remains wretched human

bodies that, according to the mathematical logic of the collisions,

should have been well and truly dead, but which, despite

the seriousness of the injuries and lesions suffered, remained

alive and were carried off to hospital, accompanied by the shrill

sound of the ambulance sirens. None of these people would die

along the way and all would disprove the most pessimistic of

medical prognoses, Theres nothing to be done for the poor

man, its not even worth operating, a complete waste of time,

said the surgeon to the nurse as she was adjusting his mask. And

the day before, there would probably have been no salvation for

this particular patient, but one thing was clear, today, the victim

refused to die. And what was happening here was happening

throughout the country. Up until the very dot of midnight

on the last day of the year there were people who died in full

compliance with the rules, both those relating to the nub of

the matter, i.e. the termination of life, and those relating to the

many ways in which the aforementioned nub, with varying degrees

of pomp and solemnity, chooses to mark the fatal moment.

One particularly interesting case, interesting because of

the person involved, was that of the very ancient and venerable

queen mother. At one minute to midnight on the thirty- first of

december, no one would have been so ingenuous as to bet a

spent match on the life of the royal lady. With all hope lost, with

the doctors helpless in the face of the implacable medical evidence,

the royal family, hierarchically arranged around the bed,

waited with resignation for the matriarchs last breath, perhaps

a few words, a final edifying comment regarding the moral ed-

ucation of the beloved princes, her grandsons, perhaps a beautiful,

well- turned phrase addressed to the ever ungrateful memory

of future subjects. And then, as if time had stopped, nothing

happened. The queen mother neither improved nor deteriorated,

she remained there in suspension, her frail body hovering

on the very edge of life, threatening at any moment to tip

over onto the other side, yet bound to this side by a tenuous

thread to which, out of some strange caprice, death, because it

could only have been death, continued to keep hold. We had

passed over to the next day, and on that day, as we said at the

beginning of this tale, no one would die.

     It was already late afternoon when the rumor began to

spread that, since the beginning of the new year, or more precisely

since zero hour on this first day of january, there was no

record in the whole country of anyone dying. You might think,

for example, that the rumor had its origins in the queen mothers

surprising resistance to giving up the little life that was left to

her, but the truth is that the usual medical bulletin issued to the

media by the palaces press office not only stated that the general

state of the royal patient had shown visible signs of improvement

during the night, it even suggested, indeed implied,

choosing its words very carefully, that there was a chance that

her royal highness might be restored to full health. In its initial

form, the rumor might also have sprung, naturally enough,

from an undertakers, No one seems to want to die on this first

day of the new year, or from a hospital, That fellow in bed

twenty- seven cant seem to make up his mind one way or the

other, or from a spokesman for the traffic police, Its really odd,

you know, despite all the accidents on the road, there hasnt been

a single death we can hold up as a warning to others. The rumor,

whose original source was never discovered, although, of course,

this hardly mattered in the light of what came afterward, soon

reached the newspapers, the radio and the television, and immediately

caused the ears of directors, assistant directors and

editors- in- chief to prick up, for these are people not only

primed to sniff out from afar the major events of world history,

theyre also trained in the ability, when it suits, to make those

events seem even more major than they really are. In a matter

of minutes, dozens of investigative journalists were out on the

street asking questions of any joe schmo who happened by, while

the ranks of telephones in the throbbing editorial offices stirred

and trembled in an identical investigatory frenzy. Calls were

made to hospitals, to the red cross, to the morgue, to funeral directors,

to the police, yes, all of them, with the understandable

exception of the secret branch, but the replies given could be

summed up in the same laconic words, There have been no

deaths. A young female television reporter had more luck when

she interviewed a passer- by, who kept glancing alternately at her

and at the camera, and who described his personal experience,

which was identical to what had happened to the queen mother,

The church clock was striking midnight, he said, when, just before

the last stroke, my grandfather, who seemed on the very

point of expiring, suddenly opened his eyes as if hed changed

his mind about the step he was about to take, and didnt die.

The reporter was so excited by what shed heard that, ignoring

all his pleas and protests, No, senhora, I cant, I have to go to the

chemists, my grandfathers waiting for his prescription, she

bundled him into the news car, Come with me, your grandfather

doesnt need prescriptions any more, she yelled, and ordered the

driver to go straight to the television studio, where, at that precise

moment, everything was being set up for a debate between

three experts on paranormal phenomena, namely, two highly

regarded wizards and a celebrated clairvoyant, hastily summoned

to analyze and give their views on what certain wags, the

kind who have no respect for anything, were already beginning

to refer to as a death strike. The bold reporter was, however, laboring

under the gravest of illusions, for she had interpreted the

words of her interviewee as meaning that the dying man had,

quite literally, changed his mind about the step he was about to

take, namely, to die, cash in his chips, kick the bucket, and so

had decided to turn back. Now, the words that the happy grandson

had pronounced, As if hed changed his mind, were radically

different from a blunt, He changed his mind. An elementary

knowledge of syntax and a greater familiarity with the elastic

subtleties of tenses would have avoided this blunder, as well as

the subsequent dressing- down that the poor girl, scarlet with

shame and humiliation, received from her immediate superior.

Little could they, either he or she, have imagined that these

words, repeated live by the interviewee and heard again in

recorded form on that evenings news bulletin, would be interpreted

in exactly the same mistaken way by millions of people,

and that an immediate and disconcerting consequence of this

would be the creation of a group firmly convinced that with the

simple application of will-power they, too, could conquer death

and that the undeserved disappearance of so many people in the

past could be put down solely to a deplorable weakness of will

on the part of previous generations. But things would not stop

there. People, without having to make any perceptible effort,

continued not to die, and so another popular mass movement,

endowed with a more ambitious vision of the future, would declare

that humanitys greatest dream since the beginning of time,

the happy enjoyment of eternal life here on earth, had become

a gift within the grasp of everyone, like the sun that rises every

day and the air that we breathe. Although the two movements

were both competing, so to speak, for the same electorate, there

was one point on which they were able to agree, and that was

on the nomination as honorary president, given his eminent status

as pioneer, of the courageous veteran who, at the final moment,

had defied and defeated death. As far as anyone knows,

no particular importance would be given to the fact that grandpa

remained in a state of profound coma, which everything seems

to indicate is irreversible.

     Although the word crisis is clearly not the most appropriate

one to describe these extraordinary events, for it would be

absurd, incongruous and an affront to the most basic logic to

speak of a crisis in an existential situation that has been privileged

by the absence of death, one can understand why some

citizens, zealous of their right to know the truth, are asking

themselves, and each other, what the hell is going on with the

government, who have so far given not the slightest sign of life.

When asked in passing during a brief interval between two

meetings, the minister for health had, it is true, explained to

journalists that, bearing in mind that they lacked sufficient information

to form a judgment, any official statement would, inevitably,

be premature, We are collating data being sent to us

from all over the country, he added, and its true to say that no

deaths have been reported, but, as you can imagine, we have

been as surprised as everyone else by this turn of events and are

not as yet ready to formulate an initial theory about the origins

of the phenomenon or about its immediate and future implications.

He could have left the matter there, which, considering

the difficulties of the situation, would have been a cause for gratitude,

but the well- known impulse to urge people to keep calm

about everything and nothing and to remain quietly in the fold

whatever happens, this tropism which, among politicians, especially

if theyre in government, has become second nature, not

to say automatic or mechanical, led him to conclude the conversation

in the worst possible way, As minister responsible for

health, I can assure everyone listening that there is absolutely no

reason for alarm, If I understand you correctly, remarked the

journalist in a tone that tried hard not to appear too ironic, the

fact that no one is dying is, in your view, not in the least alarming,

Exactly, well, those may not have been my precise words,

but, yes, that, essentially, is what I said, May I remind you, minister,

that people were dying even yesterday and it would never

have occurred to anyone to think that alarming, Of course not,

its normal to die, and dying only becomes alarming when

deaths multiply, during a war or an epidemic, for example,

When things depart from the norm, You could put it like that,

yes, But in the current situation, when, apparently, no one is

prepared to die, you call on us not to be alarmed, would you not

agree with me, minister, that such an appeal is, at the very least,

somewhat paradoxical, It was mere force of habit, and I recognize

that I shouldnt have applied the word alarm to the current

situation, So what word would you use, minister, I only ask because,

as the conscientious journalist I hope I am, I always try,

where possible, to use the exact term. Slightly irritated by the

journalists insistence, the minister replied abruptly, I would use

not one word, but six, And what would those be, minister, Let

us not foster false hopes. This would doubtless have provided a

good, honest headline for the newspaper the following day, but

the editor- in- chief, having consulted his managing editor,

thought it inadvisable, from the business point of view as well,

to throw this bucket of icy water over the prevailing mood of

enthusiasm, Lets go for the usual headline, New Year, New Life,

he said.

     In the official communiqué, broadcast late that night, the

prime minister confirmed that no deaths had been recorded

anywhere in the country since the beginning of the new year, he

called for moderation and a sense of responsibility in any evaluations

and interpretations of this strange fact...

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wordsandwords, January 9, 2011 (view all comments by wordsandwords)
Saramago again takes us down an unexplored path.

With his passing, sadly, the periodic trek to the store to pick-up the latest book is over.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780547247885
Author:
Saramago, Jose
Publisher:
Mariner Books
Translator:
Costa, Margaret Jull
Author:
Saramago
Author:
Costa, Margaret Jull
Author:
eacute
Author:
Jos
Author:
&
Author:
Saramago, Jos
Subject:
General Fiction
Subject:
Science Fiction - General
Subject:
General
Subject:
Death (Personification)
Subject:
Literature-A to Z
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade Paper
Publication Date:
20090931
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
256
Dimensions:
8 x 5.31 in 0.52 lb

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Related Subjects

Featured Titles » Nobel Prize Winners
Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
Fiction and Poetry » Science Fiction and Fantasy » A to Z

Death with Interruptions Used Trade Paper
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$6.95 In Stock
Product details 256 pages Mariner Books - English 9780547247885 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by , On the first day of the new year, no one dies. This causes consternation among politicians, religious leaders, and doctors. Among the general public, on the other hand, there is initially celebration: they have achieved eternal life. Then reality hits home, in this novel from a Nobel Prize-winning author.
"Synopsis" by ,
Nobel Prize-winner Jose Saramago's brilliant new novel poses the question — what happens when the grim reaper decides there will be no more death?
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