Tuesday, January 1, 2013
Review: Raised From the Ground
3.5 Stars - Recommended to fans of historic epic family stories / Not recommended as an intro to the author
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
The more I read Jose Saramago's earlier works, the more I appreciate his distinctive writing style. Originally written in his native language in 1980, Saramago's posthumously translated Raised From the Ground gives us a glimpse of the conversational, long-flowing sentences and creative characterization that become commonplace in his later fiction.
In this, the author's most personal novel, Saramago tells the story of three generations of Mau Tempo's - a hard working, illiterate, and landless family - in a fascinating and wholly engaging way. Forget reading a book about the things that happen to this growing family of peasants who work their knuckles to the bone out in the fields of Alentejo in order to keep food on their plates and a roof over their head. Instead, find yourself pulled through the pages by the narrator as he sits besides you and decadently deviates from the tale of these unfortunate grandparents and daughters and sons from time to time, zooming in among the pebbles on the path that our Mau Tempo's walk to show us the thin line of ants who parade alongside these humans on their very own survival mission, and drawing our focus towards the dribble of water that spills from a bucket, contemplating the liquid's fate as members of the Mau Tempo family fight to see another day.
A story of perseverance in the face of public humiliation and political punishment, Saramago's strong feelings for church and government dance in the background as he dazzles us with the simple strength of human will. In a time when standing up for your rights found you jailed and tortured, we are urged to watch as generation after generation of the Mau Tempo men attempt to make a better living for their families.
Saramago and his crafty narrator find the perfect balance between satire and sadness, where elements of history and humor mix together expertly to keep the tears from forming in your eyes as you root for the hardy farm workers to finally get their day in the sun.
I found the novel to be somewhat long in the tooth - the ponderous deviations that I look forward to in Saramago's later novels are still figuring themselves out here, sometimes appearing at the wrong moment, other times deviating so far off the story's path that it actually slows the tale's momentum rather than enhance it. Yet as I say that, Saramago also manages moments of sheer perfection as his mind strays from the story - most often in the form of an additional perspective during events that are taking place. Our narrator has no qualms stepping back and allowing another to tell the goings-on when the opportunity arises. Take for instance this thin line of ants that happen to find themselves in the path of one of the Mau Tempo men as they fall to the ground from a beating. Our narrator allows the lead ant, which holds its head like a dog, to share what it is seeing in that very moment, how it observes and makes note of the man's bruised and battered face, a face it shall never forget, before the ant moves on to wherever he and his friends were headed. And later in the story, we are treated again to their perspective, when this same line of ants find themselves moving along the walls of the prison that the battered man is being held and tortured in...
A moving tale that demonstrates the cunning and creative beginnings of a wickedly talented Nobel-laureate novelist.