Childhood & Personal Life
Jose Saramago was born as Jose se Sousa Saramago on November 16, 1922, in Azinhaga village, Ribatejo Province, Portugal, into a family of poor peasants, to Jose de Sousa and Maria de Piedade.
His family relocated to Lisbon in 1924, where his father found employment as a police officer. His illiterate grandparents introduced him to folklore and fantasy, whom he spent his holidays with.
Since his family continued to face economic hardships continuously, he was shifted from a grammar school to a technical school when he was 12.
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After completing his education, he took up various jobs, such as car mechanic, metalworker, translator, journalist, and assistant editor of a newspaper, before taking up writing full-time.
In 1947, he released his first novel, ‘Land of Sin’, which was originally titled ‘The Widow’ but changed by the publisher in the hope of making more business.
He went to write another novel ‘The Skylight’ but wasn’t published and penned a few pages of another one which was later canceled.
He became jobless in 1949 and found employment at a metal company. However, in late 1950, he took up the job of a production manager at a publishing company, ‘Estudios Cor’.
To further contribute to his family finances, he started translating in 1955, which he continued till 1981. Some of the popular writers he translated included Raymond Bayer, Jean Cassou, Tolstoi, Henri Focillon, and Par Lagerkvist.
For 19 years, he stayed away from writing and returned back to literature in 1966 by publishing his first collection of poems titled ‘The Possible Poems’.
In 1969, he became a member of Portugal’s Communist Party and remained associated with it for the rest of his life.
Subsequently, he released a series of works in the following years, namely, a poetry book ‘Probably Joy’ (1970) and two volumes of newspaper articles – ‘From this World and the Other’ (1971) and ‘The Traveller’s Baggage’ (1973).
He left ‘Estudios Cor’ in 1971 and joined the evening newspaper ‘Diario de Lisboa’ as an editor. After two years, he moved to morning daily ‘Diario de Noticias’ as a deputy director in 1974.
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In the wake of the Carnation Revolution of 1974, he was forced to leave the job, after which he switched to literature permanently. His two books – ‘The Year of 1993’ (1975) and ‘The Notes’ (1976) were inspired by this revolutionary process.
His 1980 novel ‘Raised from the Ground’ brought him into the limelight and got him recognition as a novelist. However, it was his 1982 novel ‘Baltasar and Blimunda’ that brought him international acclaim and catapulted his career.
He went to publish a number of successful works, such as ‘The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis’ (1984), ‘The Stone Raft’ (1986), and ‘The History of the Siege of Lisbon’ (1989).
In 1991, he published ‘The Gospel According to Jesus Christ’. However, the Portuguese conservative government banned its nomination for Aristeion Prize alleging that it offended the Catholic and Jewish communities.
Disappointed with the people’s response to his ‘The Gospel’, he left Lisbon and moved to Lanzarote, an island in the Canary Islands, Spain, into self-imposed symbolic exile with his wife.
Some of his other popular works were ‘Blindness’ (1995), ‘All the Names’ (1997), ‘The Double’ (2002), ‘Death with Interruptions’ (2005), ‘The Elephant’s Journey’ (2008), and ‘Cain’ (2009).
He established the European Writers’ Parliament (EWP), along with fellow Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk. However, he died before attending its opening ceremony in 2010.
Awards & Achievements
His novel ‘Raised from the Ground’ was awarded with the ‘City of Lisbon Prize’.
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He won the Portuguese PEN Club Award for his novel ‘Baltasar and Blimunda’.
His novel ‘The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis’ was honored with the Britain’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
He received the Camoes Prize in 1995.
In 1998, he became the first ever Portuguese language writer to be honored with the prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature.
His ‘The Elephant’s Journey’ was shortlisted for Sao Paulo Prize for Literature under the ‘Best Book of the Year’ category, in 2009.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1944, he married Ilda Reis, a typist with the Railway Company, with whom he had a daughter – Violante dos Reis Saramago in 1947. The relationship, however, broke after 26 years in 1970.
He met Pilar del Rio, a Spanish journalist, in 1986, and married her in 1988. Currently, she is responsible for translating his books into Spanish.
In order to inspire young budding writers, the biennial Premio Literario Jose Saramago (or Jose Saramago Literary Prize) was started in 1999.
He died on June 18, 2010, after suffering from leukemia, at the age of 87. His funeral was held in downtown Lisbon on June 20 and after two days of national mourning, his body was cremated at Alto de Sao Joao cemetery.
Half of his ashes were taken to his native village, Azinhaga, while the other half was placed under an olive tree at his home in Lanzarote, where he spent the last years of his life.
His novel ‘The Skylight’, written in the late 1940s, was published posthumously in 2012.