Sunday, 8 April 2018

Skylight by José Saramago

Paperback:  Lisbon, late 1940s. 

The inhabitants of a faded apartment building are struggling to make ends meet:  Silvio the cobbler and his wife take in a disaffected young lodger;  Dona Lídia, a retired prostitute, is kept by a businessman with a roving eye.  Humble salesman Emilio's Spanish wife is in a permanent rage; beautiful Claudinha's boss lusts for her;  Justina and her womanizer husband live at war with each other.

Poisonous relationships, happy marriages, jealousy, gossip and love - Skylight (2014) brings together all the joy and grief of ordinary people. 

Pilar del Rio, president of José Saramago Foundation writes in the novel's introduction that in 1953, 31-year old José Saramago sent a bundle of typewritten papers to a publishing house for their consideration.  The manuscript was ignored, not returned and lost to time for 36 years. 

When the lost novel was discovered in 1989, the publishing house respectfully asked if they could publish it and Saramago said no, not in his lifetime.  This is because the initial rejection had been so painful that Saramago, while writing poems, journals and essays, would not write another novel for 30 years. 

Meanwhile Saramago would go on to world recognition and would become a 1998 Nobel Prize recipient in literature.  Upon his death in 2010, the wheels were set in motion to publish Skylight, "the book lost and found in time".

José Saramago would become a master of character portrayal and Skylight gives the reader an introduction into the development of stories and characters to come.

Skylight is translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa.

About the author:  José de Sousa Saramago was a Nobel-laureate Portuguese novelist, playwright and journalist.  He was a member of the Portuguese Communist Party.  His works, some of which can be seen as allegories, commonly present subversive perspectives on historic events, emphasizing the human factor rather than the officially sanctioned story.  Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998.  He founded the National Front for the Defense of Culture (Lisbon, 1992) with among others Freitas-Magalhaes.  He lived on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, Spain, where he died in June 2010.

A foundation with his name was established in 2007;  its main aims are cultural promotion, particularly of Portuguese literature and authors.  The José Saramago Foundation is currently based in Casa dos Bicos, a Portuguese landmark building in Lisbon.  Saramago's house in Lanzarote is also open to the public.

José Saramago, together with his wife Pilar, were the subject of the award-winning documentary José e Pilar, providing us with a glimpse into their love story and life, as he was writing his A Viagem do Elefante (The Elephant's Journey (2010)), heralded as "a triumph of language, imagination, and humour". 

Rating:  5/5

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