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 (Skylight)
, 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 G., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
"Essential...A novel that resounds with relevance for our own time." —New York Times Book Review
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 Saramagos 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.
Raised from the Ground is Saramagos most deeply personal novel, the book in which he found the signature style and voice that distinguishes all of his brilliant works.
Praise for José Saramago and Raised from the Ground "Essential...A novel that resounds with relevance for our own time." —New York Times Book Review "A beautifully written epic...Raised from the Ground presents a breathtaking view of this momentous period in Portugal's history." —Daily Beast "Drawn from the experiences of the author's own ancestors, the novel is sustained by Saramago's rich descriptions, which can capture a span of time in a single image...or telescope a moment into a mystical event." —The New Yorker "A fascinating, personal portrait of a nation and its people…A great example of Saramagos distinct voice and style, famous for its insightfulness and inventiveness and keen use of parable and irony." —Real Simple "Saramago is arguably the greatest writer of our time." —Chicago Tribune "A beautifully modulated performance, juxtaposing scenes of great, often tender lyrical beauty with scenes of violence and despair…Raised from the Ground resonates powerfully as a personal statement of beliefs." —Richmond Times-Dispatch "In the case of the Portuguese writer José Saramago, the Nobel Committee got it right for once." —The Seattle Times "It isnt Saramagos political pessimism that makes him a great novelist, although one may well share it. Its his profligate interest in life, his storytellers joy with words, his understanding that the realms of experience and ideas need not be separate, his belief in the possibility of finding love and changing your life at any age, his lyricism on such subjects as food and sleep, his undiluted affection for all his characters." —Salon.com "Reading the Portuguese writer José Saramago, one quickly senses the presence of a master." —The Christian Science Monitor "A masterly piece of work, beautifully shaped and composed and emotionally affecting… Saramago doesnt demand that readers weep for his characters. He just demands respect for their quiet lives and limited possibilities." —The Onions A.V. Club "[Saramagos] narrative voice is unmistakable: a mature, quiet voice, conversational and easy, often ironical or endearingly humorous, that flows forward always weaving and interbraiding with itself, wandering but never losing impetus, like a big river running through a dry land." —Ursula K. LeGuin, The Guardian "Hypnotic, lyrical and dynamic…Raised from the Ground is a lovely and fascinating read, fiction of the highest order." —Toronto Star "Saramago seamlessly juxtaposes bleak realism and fanciful folklore as only someone who lived the harshest of reality can dare… Sometimes it is delivered with great wisdom, and other times, unexpectedly, with humor, yet all Saramagos prose is rendered without any sense of distance from the characters he has created." —The Post and Courier "Saramago's poetic and political fans of the English-speaking world will unite in appreciation for this long-awaited translation." —Booklist
A multi-generational family saga that paints a sweeping portrait of modern Portuguese political history.
When the Iberian Peninsula breaks free of Europe and begins to drift across the North Atlantic, five people are drawn together on the newly formed island-first by surreal events and then by love. “A splendidly imagined epic voyage...a fabulous fable” (Kirkus Reviews). Translated by Giovanni Pontiero.
A wry, fictional account of the life of Christ by Nobel laureate José Saramago
A brilliant skeptic, José Saramago envisions the life of Jesus Christ and the story of his Passion as things of this earth: A child crying, the caress of a woman half asleep, the bleat of a goat, a prayer uttered in the grayish morning light. His idea of the Holy Family reflects the real complexities of any family, and—as only Saramago can—he imagines them with tinges of vision, dream, and omen. The result is a deft psychological portrait that moves between poetry and irony, spirituality and irreverence of a savior who is at once the Son of God and a young man. In this provocative, tender novel, the subject of wide critical discussion and wonder, Saramago questions the meaning of God, the foundations of the Church, and human existence itself.
The year: 1936. Europe dances while an invidious dictator establishes himself in Portugal. The city: Lisbon-gray, colorless, chimerical. Ricardo Reis, a doctor and poet, has just come home after sixteen years in Brazil. Translated by Giovanni Pontiero.
In this “ingenious” novel (New York Times) by “one of Europes most original and remarkable writers” (Los Angeles Times), a proofreaders deliberate slip opens the door to romance-and confounds the facts of Portugals past. Translated by Giovanni Pontiero.
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.