José de Sousa Saramago was born on 16 November 1922 in Azinhaga, Santarém, Portugal & died on 18 June 2010 Tías, Las Palmas, Spain, was a Nobel-laureate Portuguese novelist, poet, playwright and journalist. His works, some of which can be seen as allegories, commonly present subversive perspectives on historic events, emphasizing the human factor.
Saramago was born in 1922 into a family of landless peasants in Azinhaga, Portugal, a small village in the province of Ribatejo some hundred kilometers northeast of Lisbon. His parents were José de Sousa and Maria de Piedade. “Saramago”, a wild herbaceous plant known in English as the wild radish, was his father’s family’s nickname, and was accidentally incorporated into his name upon registration of his birth. I
n 1924, Saramago’s family moved to Lisbon, where his father started working as a policeman. A few months after the family moved to the capital, his brother Francisco, older by two years, died. He spent vacations with his grandparents in Azinhaga.
When his grandfather suffered a stroke and was to be taken to Lisbon for treatment, Saramago recalled, “He went into the yard of his house, where there were a few trees, fig trees, olive trees. And he went one by one, embracing the trees and crying, saying good-bye to them because he knew he would not return. To see this, to live this, if that doesn’t mark you for the rest of your life,” Saramago said, “you have no feeling.” Although Saramago was a good pupil, his parents were unable to afford to keep him in grammar school, and instead moved him to atechnical school at age 12.
After graduating, he worked as a car mechanic for two years. Later he worked as a translator, then as a journalist. He was assistant editor of the newspaper Diário de Notícias, a position he had to leave after the democratic revolution in 1975.
After a period of working as a translator he was able to support himself as a writer. Saramago married Ilda Reis in 1944. Their only child, Violante, was born in 1947. From 1988 until his death in June 2010 Saramago was married to the Spanish journalist Pilar del Río, who is the official translator of his books into Spanish.
Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. More than two million copies of his books have been sold and translated into 25 languages. He founded the National Front for the Defence of Culture (Lisbon, 1992) with Freitas-Magalhães and others. In 1992, the Portuguese government, under Prime Minister Aníbal Cavaco Silva, ordered the removal of The Gospel According to Jesus Christ from the European Literary Prize’s shortlist, claiming the work was religiously offensive. Saramago complained of censorship and moved to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, Spain, where he resided until his death.
A proponent of libertarian communism, Saramago came into conflict with some groups, such as the Catholic Church. Saramago was an atheist who defended love as an instrument to improve the human condition.
He was married to Spanish journalist Pilar del Rio, and had a daughter from a previous marriage.
Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. The announcement came when he was about to fly to Germany ahead of the Frankfurt Book Fair, and caught both him and his editor by surprise. The Nobel committee praised his “parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony”, and his “modern scepticism” about official truths.
Saramago died on 18 June 2010, aged 87, having spent the last few years of his life in Lanzarote, Spain. He was reported to have consumed breakfast and chatted with his wife for a time before ill health overcame him and killed him.
Saramago had continued his writing until his death. His most recent publication, Cain, was published in 2009, with an English translation made available in August 2010. Saramago had suffered from pneumoniaa year before his death. Having been thought to have made a full recovery, he was scheduled to attend the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August 2010.