A subtle and insightful story about boredom, passion, curiosity and memory from the Nobel Prize-winner Jose Saramago
Born in Portugal in 1922, Jose Saramago was one of the most important writers of his generation. He was in his fifties when he came to prominence as a novelist with the publication of Baltasar & Blimunda. A huge body of work followed, which included plays, poetry, short stories, non-fiction and over a dozen novels, including Blindness which was made into an acclaimed film. He has been translated into more than forty languages, and in 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died on 18 June 2010, shortly after the Portuguese publication of Cain.
Birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates. It's all the same to Senhor Jos‚, who works at the Central Registry. But one day he becomes interested in a young woman's birth certificate and sets out to learn everything about herÄwith unforeseen consequences. From the Nobel prize winner. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
The deceptive simplicity of Nobel Prize-winner Saramago's prose, and the ironic comments that he intersperses within this story of an obsessional quest, initially have a disarming effect; one expects that this low-key exploration of a quiet man's eccentric descent into a metaphysical labyrinth will be an extremely intelligent but unexciting read. Unexciting: wrong. Within the first few pages, Saramago establishes a tension that sings on the page, rises, produces stunning revelations and culminates when the final paragraph twists expectations once again. The title refers to the miles of archival records among which the protagonist toils at the Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths in an unnamed small country whose inhabitants still live by ancient rules of hierarchical social classes. The registry is quixotically disorganized so that the files of those most recently deceased are buried under miles of paper at the furthest remove of the massive building. After more than two decades at the job, 50-year-old Senhor Jos is still a mere clerk in the bureau. A penurious, reclusive, lonely bachelor, Senhor Jos has only one secret passion: he collects clippings about famous people and surreptitiously copies their birth certificates, purloining them from the registry at night and returning them stealthily. Purely by accident, the index card of a 36-year-old woman unknown to him becomes entangled in the clippings he steals. Suddenly, he is stricken by a need to learn about this woman's life. Consumed by passion, this heretofore model of punctilious behavior commits a series of dangerous and unprofessional acts. He forges official papers, breaks into a building, removes records from institutions and continues to enter the registry after darkDall punishable offenses. To carry out his mission, he is forced to become practical, clever and brave. But the more risks he takes, the more astonishing events occur, chief among them that the remote, authoritarian Registrar takes a personal interest in his lowly employee. Meanwhile, Senhor Jos himself discovers shocking facts about the woman he seeks. Saramago relates these events in finely honed prose pervaded with irony, but also playful, mocking and witty. Alternately farcical, macabre, surreal and tragic, this mesmerizing narrative depicts the loneliness of individual lives and the universal need for human connection even as it illuminates the fine line between the living and the dead. First serial to Grand Street, the Reading Room and Doubletake; QPB and Reader's Subscription Club selection; author tour. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
A novel that has soul, which Saramago offers to his readers with
all his witty, intelligent, tender and magical generosity --
Samantha Harvey * Independent *
Offers an unearthly, muted beauty; a freedom from the obvious, the ideological and trivial; an atmosphere of profound serenity, and a benevolent humor * Literary Review *
Both delightful and unsettling which is perhaps the mark of true literature -- Anthony Daniels * Sunday Telegraph *
A tantalizing novel...shifting and teasing, full of metaphorical labyrinths and false trails * Herald *
It is the marriage of the living and the dying...that so strongly characterizes the writing of Jose Saramago * New Statesman *