4.5 Stars - Highly Recommended to fans of Jose Saramago's previous work / a great intro to Jose Saramago
Publisher: Verso Books
Release Date: April 25, 2012
Oh god, how I love reading Jose Saramago. Picking up a book by this man is like slipping into a pleasure-coma. I wish I could remain buried within his books forever. Just cover me with his words and never move me again. Deal?
Words cannot explain how excited I was when I heard that Verso Books picked up his short story collection The Lives of Things, which was first published in its original language back in 1978. This edition, translated by Giovanni Pontiero, drops on April 25th and I highly recommend finding a place for it on your bookshelves.
If you are at all familiar with him, you know that only Saramago can write a 25 page story about a falling chair. Yes, you heard me right... a story detailing the act of a chair falling. True to the stream of consciousness, mind wandering style that I have come to know and love, Saramago dissects every conceivable possibility as the chair begins to fall in slow motion, continuously freezing it in mid-fall, like those stop-action screen shots that are employed in films - where everyone is suddenly locked in a moment in time while one person is left free to roam the scene and snatch things out of the air. Listen to the opening of The Chair ... "The chair started to fall, to come crashing down, to topple, but not, strictly speaking, to come to bits. Strictly speaking, to come to bits means bits fall off. Now no one speaks of the chair having bits, and if it had bits, such as arms on each side, then you would refer to the arms of the chair falling off rather than coming to bits. But now that I remember, it has to be said that heavy rain comes down in buckets, so why should chairs not be able to come to bits? .. therefore accept the fact that chairs come to bits, although preferably they should simply fall, topple, or come crashing down." How can you not fall in love with his circular thinking?!
The Chair, the first of 6 short stories, is by far my favorite. While I appreciate the story as it is, it's also incredibly allegorical (a writing technique that is very common in Saramago's novels). This particular story was influenced by the event that triggered the end of Salazar's terrifying reign in Portugal. Can you guess what ended his reign? That's right. His beach chair collapsed. The falling chair caused the brain hemorrhage that would bring about his death. That's the trick with translations and international fiction, isn't it, though? The fact that, for most of us, we are practically clueless as to what is (or has) taken place in other countries, and typically these allegorical spoofs and political satires tends to fly completely over our heads.
The Chair also contains what I believe to be one of the best lines within the book.. "Fall, old man, fall. See how your feet are higher than your head." If nothing else, The Lives of Things contains little pockets of humor hidden beneath the otherwise dark fictional stories contained within its covers.
Now, that isn't to say that the rest of the stories pale in comparison. Each tale brings something new to the table. Take Embargo, for example. It's the story of a man who just wants to get to work on a day when his town's gas stations are running out of gas. Filling up his car at the very first station, he happily heads out on his way but his car has other ideas. Reflux details a town that decides to dig up all of its dead and buried, moving them into one centralized cemetery, creating what essentially becomes a giant city of dead surrounded by four small cities of the living. Things tells the tale of a town that is plagued by objects, utensils, machines, and installations (OUMI's for short) that suddenly stop working and then begin disappearing altogether. And The Centaur is a twisted fairy tale that introduces us to the ageless creature whose two halves are in constant turmoil with each other.
This collection is an excellent way to introduce yourself to Samarago. His unique writing style - run on sentences, paragraphs that go on and on for pages without a break, and lack of identifying marks when characters are speaking - can take some time getting used to. These stories will give the hesitant newbie an opportunity to dip their toes in the water and prepare you for taking the greater plunge into one of his full length novels.
Sadly, Jose Saramago passed away in 2010, so I am left at the mercy of our american publishers, anxiously awaiting their decisions to pick up his older literature and have them translated for my eager consumption. Just to put my worries to bed, I snagged this bibliography off of Wikipedia and breathed a sigh of relief when I saw how many novels were still out there, waiting patiently to be published.... I have issues. I know. I simply can't imagine a world without new Saramago stories to read, and thankfully, it will be quite a few more years before I have to start. (I've already read the ones in bold)
|Terra do Pecado||1947||Land of Sin||ISBN 972-21-1145-0|
|Os Poemas Possíveis||1966||Possible Poems|
|Provavelmente Alegria||1970||Probably Joy|
|Deste Mundo e do Outro||1971||This World and the Other|
|A Bagagem do Viajante||1973||The Traveller's Baggage|
|As Opiniões que o DL teve||1974||Opinions that DL had|
|O Ano de 1993||1975||The Year of 1993|
|Os Apontamentos||1976||The Notes|
|Manual de Pintura e Caligrafia||1977||Manual of Painting and Calligraphy||1993||ISBN 1-85754-043-3|
|Objecto Quase||1978||Quasi Object (The Lives of Things)||2012||ISBN 1-84467-878-4|
|Levantado do Chão||1980||Raised from the Ground||2011|
|Viagem a Portugal||1981||Journey to Portugal||2000||ISBN 0-15-100587-7|
|Memorial do Convento||1982||Baltasar and Blimunda||1987||ISBN 0-15-110555-3|
|O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis||1986||The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis||1991||ISBN 0-15-199735-7|
|A Jangada de Pedra||1986||The Stone Raft||1994||ISBN 0-15-185198-0|
|História do Cerco de Lisboa||1989||The History of the Siege of Lisbon||1996||ISBN 0-15-100238-X|
|O Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo||1991||The Gospel According to Jesus Christ||1993||ISBN 0-15-136700-0|
|Ensaio sobre a Cegueira||1995||Blindness||1997||ISBN 0-15-100251-7|
|Todos os Nomes||1997||All the Names||1999||ISBN 0-15-100421-8|
|O Conto da Ilha Desconhecida||1997||The Tale of the Unknown Island||1999||ISBN 0-15-100595-8|
|A Caverna||2000||The Cave||2002||ISBN 0-15-100414-5|
|A Maior Flor do Mundo||2001||Children's Picture Book|
|O Homem Duplicado||2003||The Double||2004||ISBN 0-15-101040-4|
|Ensaio sobre a Lucidez||2004||Seeing||2006||ISBN 0-15-101238-5|
|Don Giovanni ou o Dissoluto Absolvido||2005||Don Giovanni, or, Dissolute Acquitted|
|As Intermitências da Morte||2005||Death with Interruptions||2008||ISBN 1-84655-020-3|
|As Pequenas Memórias||2006||Small Memories||2010||ISBN 978-0-15-101508-5|
|A Viagem do Elefante||2008||The Elephant's Journey||2010||ISBN 978-972-21-2017-3|