Tag Archives: Jose Saramago

Classic book review: José Saramago’s “Blindess”

BlindnessJosé Saramago’s Blindness (Harcourt Brace) grabs you from the first page and doesn’t let you go.

The 1995 novel by the late Portuguese author is one of the most acclaimed works in literature. Saramago won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998 and Entertainment Weekly named it one of the 100 greatest novels ever. The book was made into a 2008 movie with Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Gabriel García Bernal.

The novel begins in an unnamed city when a man is suddenly struck blind while driving in traffic. Soon, everyone he meets, including an eye doctor, becomes afflicted with “white blindness.” Hundreds become blind and are quarantined in a mental hospital. People are left starving or are shot if they approach those who can still see. Chaos erupts in the ward and the city.

“In a downpour like this, which is almost becoming a deluge, you would expect people to be taking shelter, waiting for the weather to improve. But this is not the case, there are blind people everywhere gaping up at the heavens, slaking their thirst, storing up water in every nook and cranny of their bodies, and others, who are somewhat more far-sighted, and above all sensible, hold up buckets, bowls and pans, and raise them to the generous sky, clearly God provides the cloud according to the thirst.”

But one woman — the doctor’s wife — retains her vision and is able to see the destruction around her. She leads the way for a small group to find some sanity.

None of the characters are given names or any details about their lives. At times, I would have liked to have known more about them, but I understand that Saramago did this intentionally to focus on their present circumstances.

I was intimidated by this book, but it proved to be a gripping read, even though Saramago writes in long paragraphs and uses very little dialogue. (The book’s translators, Giovanni Pontiero and Margaret Jull Costa, deserve credit for a great job.) The novel contains some disturbing images, including a scene in which a group of women are brutally raped. But that chapter also ends with a moment of great humanity.

Blindness is an extraordinary book, a novel that makes you hate and believe in humanity at the same time. You will never forget this novel, even after you’ve read the last page.

JOSE-SARAMAGOMore about José Saramago: Saramago‘s other books include The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, which drew controversy for its anti-religious views; Cain, a retelling of Biblical stories; and Raised From the Ground, which depicts the lives of Portuguese peasants.

Source: I checked this out of the library.

And that’s a wrap of my series of classic Latino novels. Check out my other list of classic novels by Latinas.

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In the news: Books from Bolaño, Saramago; new literary magazine

(I’m still taking a break, but check out my story I wrote about a Dallas theater company’s adaption of Sandra Cisneros’ Women Hollering Creek for the Theater Jones website.)

The Hispanic Reader will be taking a long hiatus, so here’s the new releases, events and holiday books to keep you entertained for the rest of the year. See you in 2013.

New releases:

Nov. 13Woes of the True Policeman is the last book Roberto Bolaño wrote before his death. The novel follows a Chilean professor as he undergoes several personal crises.

Nov. 30 - In the children’s book The Poet Upstairs by Judith Ortiz Cofer, a young girl makes friends with a writer.

• Dec. 4 – Raised From the Ground, by the late Nobel Prize winner José Saramago, is a reissue of a book – published for the first time in English – that depicts the lives of Portuguese peasants.

Dec. 11 – The children’s book The Beautiful Lady: Our Lady of Guadalupe by Pat Mora features the iconic Mexican figure.

Awards:

• The National Book Awards announced its nominations, with Junot Díaz’s  This is How You Lose Her shortlisted in the fiction category and Domingo Martinez’s The Boy Kings of Texas making the non-fiction category. Martinez spoke to NPR about how he learned about his nomination. Winners will be announced Nov. 14.

Literary magazines:

• The second issue of the literary magazine Huizache, produced by CentroVictoria – the Center for Mexican American Literature and Culture at the University of Houston-Victoria, is out. Contributors include Lorna Dee Cervantes, Rigoberto Gonzalez, Luis J. Rodriguez, Michele Serros and Gary Soto.

Book Festivals:

• The Miami Book Fair Festival International takes place Nov. 16-18. Featured authors include Malin Alegria, Roberto Ampuero, Joy Castro, Sandra Cisneros, Jeanne Cordova, Junot Díaz, Christina Diaz Gonzalez, Reyna Grande and Justin Torres.

Other News:

Sandra Cisneros discussed her newest book, Have You Seen Marie?, to NBC Latino, CNN and the LA Review of Books.

Junot Díaz talked to Wired magazine about the science-fiction book he’s writing, Monstro, and to LA Review of Books about his current book, This Is How You Lose Her.

Luis Alberto Urrea’s Into the Beautiful North has been named a 2013 Big Read selection by the National Endowment for the Arts.

• Pulitzer Prize winner Oscar Hijuelos will be featured in Symphony Space’s Artful Dining fundraiser Nov. 12 in New York City. Sonia Manzano will lead the discussion.

• Mexico City celebrated the 50th anniversary of Gabriel Gárcia Márquez’s move to that city by putting up posters honoring him, according to an article by Héctor Tobar in the Los Angeles Times. Tobar also wrote about a MacArthur Grant-winning Orange County barbershop that features a bookstore and is teaming up with Chapman University to promote Latino literature.

• Ploughshares magazine talked to Aurora Anaya-Cerda, owner of the La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem, N.Y., that is devoted to Latino literature.

• Voices of New York wrote up about the Las Comadres Para Las Americas writer’s conference last month, with some interesting insights about Latinos in publishing.

• Want a blog that features the poetry of Pablo Neruda with pictures of cats? Here you go.

Also:

• Celebrating birthdays in November: The late Carlos Fuentes, right, and Nobel Prize winner José Saramago.

• Celebrating birthdays in December: Sandra Cisneros, Nobel Prize winning poet Juan Ramon Jimenez and Manuel Puig.

• Looking for gifts for the holidays? Here some some Christmas books for children and adults.

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The Hispanic Reader is one year old today!

It’s The Hispanic Reader’s one-year anniversary! Since my first post, I’ve talked to eight authors, marked 18 writers’ birthdays, reviewed 37 books and written 117 posts. To celebrate, I’m giving you a couple of presents.

First, I created a Features Index that includes links to those author interviews and profiles; lists of books for special occasions (from Christmas to quinceañeras); and features about Latino literature, such as a look at writers who have won the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes. (I already have an index of book reviews.)

Second, I’ve created a trivia quiz about Latino literature from my posts and book reviews in the past year. (You can find more information about the answers below the quiz.) Good luck and have fun!

1. The answer is D. In the 2001 movie, the flighty Sara (Kate Beckinsale) writes her name and phone number in a copy of Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera and tells Jonathan (John Cusack), who she just met, that if their love is meant to be, he will find that copy in a bookstore. Appropriate book since Cholera is about a man who waits 50 years for the woman he loves.

2. The answer is A. Although he is considered one of the top storytellers in Latino literature, Borges never won the Nobel. Only 12 Latinos have, including Paz, Saramago and Vargas Llosa. But Borges did get a Google doodle on his birthday.

3. The answer is B. Luis Valdez began directing plays on a flatbed truck and union halls during the Delano Grape Strike of the 1960s. His theater company is aptly named El Teatro Campesino. Considered the father of Latino theater, he wrote the play Zoot Suit and the directed the movie version and La Bamba.

4. The answer is C. In Il Postino, Pablo Neruda helps an Italian postal carrier woo his love. The 1994 film, based on an Antonio Skarmeta book, earned a Best Picture nomination. The other answers were books – by Laura Esquivel, Isabel Allende and Carlos Fuentes – that also were made into movies.

5. The answer is B. Loving Pedro Infante by Denise Chávez takes place in the tiny fictional town of Cabritoville, near El Paso.

6. The answer is B. Malín Alegría dons the elaborate dress in honor of her book Estrelle’s Quinceañera, one of many books about the popular Hispanic tradition. Veronica Chambers wrote the Magdalena and Marisol books; Diana López penned Choke; and Lorraine López authored The Realm of Hungry Spirits.

7. The answer is D. Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig is considered one of the most famous works in Latino literature of the last 50 years.

8. The answer is A. Hanks read Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude in the classic comedy caper.

9. The answer is D. Quiara Alegría Hudes won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Drama in 2012 for her play, Water by the Spoonful. Hudes, who also wrote 26 Miles and co-wrote the Tony-winner In the Heights, is one of the few Latinos to win the American award for literary arts and journalism. Although they have not won the Pulitzer, Julia Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros and Cristina García have written novels that have received strong critical acclaim.

10. The answer is C. Pablo Neruda knew Gabriela Mistral when he was growing up in Temuco, Chile. Fuentes and Paz are from Mexico. Allende is from Chile, but a generation younger than Neruda. Her uncle, President Salvador Allende, was friends with Neruda, a relationship depicted in Roberto Ampuero’s The Neruda Case.

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Happy Birthday, José Saramago!

Saramago, who was born on this date in 1922 and died in 2010, is one of only a dozen Latinos to win the Nobel Prize in literature, which he won in 1998.

Saramago’s best known book, 1995′s Blindness, was made into a 2008 movie starring Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo and Gael García Bernal. His 1991 book, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ), drew controversy for its anti-religious views.

Granta ran a great article about the Portuguese writer by his translator, Margaret Jull Costa.

The Hispanic Reader reviewed his last book, Cain, which was published last month.

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Book review: José Saramago’s “Cain”

Nobel Prize winner José Saramago is known for his dark words such as Blindness. Who knew he was such a comedian?

The late Portuguese’s last novel, Cain, released last month, tells some of the stories of the Bible from the perspective of Adam and Eve’s son, Cain, who killed his brother, Abel, out of jealousy. After the murder, Cain witnesses historical events from the Bible – the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the creation of the golden calf and the construction of Noah’s Ark.

Through it all, Saramago offers some wry observations – such as when Eve complains about having diarrhea. “What’s diarrhea, asked the angel, Another word for it is the runs, the vocabulary the lord taught us has a word for everything, having diarrhea or the runs, if you prefer that term, means that you can’t retain the shit you have inside you.”

Or this, when Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac: “The logical, natural and simply human response would have been for abraham to tell the lord to piss off, but that isn’t what happened.”

(By the way, Saramago doesn’t capitalize names or use quote marks in the book.)

Of course, Saramago, who was known for his atheist views, is mocking the Bible. Cain frequently questions the Lord’s motives in killing thousands of innocent lives during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the Golden Calf. Fans of Kurt Vonnegut and Christopher Hitches will love this stuff.

Saramago writes in never-ending sentences and never-ending paragraphs that may have some readers rereading passages. But, at 159 pages, Cain is a quick read and, considering the complexity of his other books, this may be a good starting point for his work.

More about José Saramago:

Saramago won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. The Nobel’s website includes this biography.

Margaret Jull Costa, who translated Cain and Paulo Coelho’s recent book Aleph, wrote about him in this article for Granta magazine.

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In the news

• New on the bookshelves: Kami Garcia’s latest book, Beautiful Chaos, part of her Beautiful Creatures series written with Margaret Stohl, comes out Tuesday. Cain, a retelling of the Biblical story from the late, Nobel Prize-winning novelist José Saramago, was released earlier this month.

• The Texas Book Festival, which runs from Saturday-Sunday in Austin, will feature 250 authors, and it features some great programs with Latino authors:

Dagoberto Gilb (pictured at right) will discuss his latest book, Before the End, After the Beginning.

Mary Romero, author of the non-fiction The Maid’s Daughter: Living Inside and Outside the American Dream, and Héctor Tobar, author of The Barbarian Nurseries, will discuss Mexican women working as maids in the United States.

Sarah Cortez, René Saldaña, Jr., Sergio Troncoso and Gwendolyn Zepeda will talk about the mysteries they contributed to the Arte Publico Press book for young adults, You Don’t Have a Clue: Latino Mystery Stories for Teens.

Alex Sanchez (pictured at left), author of Bait, will receive the Tomás Rivera Mexican American Children’s Book Award.

Troncoso and Richard Yanez will discuss stories from their hometown of El Paso. Kami Garcia, Rolando Hinojosa-Smith and Justin Torres will speak at other sessions.

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Latinos and the Nobel Prize

Sometime this month, the Nobel Prize will be awarded for literature. Only a dozen of the 107 recipients – including 2010 recipient, Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa (right) – have Hispanic and/or Latino roots.

The Nobel Prize is considered the most prestigious literary award in the world, given for lifetime achievement. So, who are some possible Latino contenders for the Nobel? Chile’s Isabel Allende seems like a great candidate – she has accumulated a large amount of work with critical acclaim. Other possible contenders could include Oscar Hijuelos and Victor Villasenor (as Felix Sanchez noted in this Huffington Post article about the Kennedy Center honors).

But since Llosa won his award fairly recently, the committee may give the honor to a writer from another part of the world. The committee can be unpredictable, as The Guardian pointed out in a recent article: “Some of their choices are so leftfield as to barely register.” The Washington Post speculates that Canadian Margaret Atwood, Syrian Adonis or American Phillip Roth could win the literary prize. By the way, no American has won the award since Toni Morrison took the prize in1993.

Here’s a list at the past Latino Nobel Prize winners. Click on this link to learn more about them.

1904 – José Echegaray, Spain

1922 – Jacinto Benavente, Spain

1945 – Gabriela Mistral, Chile

1956 – Juan Ramón Jiménez, Spain

1967 – Miguel Ángel Asturias, Guatemala

1971 – Pablo Neruda, Chile

1977 – Vicente Aleixandre, Spain

1982 – Gabriel García Márquez, Colombia

1989 – Camilo José Cela, Spain

1990 – Octavio Paz, Mexico

1998 – José Saramago, Portugal

2010 – Mario Vargas Llosa, Peru/Spain

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