José Saramago, Nobel Prize-Winning Portuguese Writer, Dies at 87
José Saramago, the Portuguese writer who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998 with novels that combine surrealist experimentation with a kind of sardonic peasant pragmatism, died on Friday at his home in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands. He was 87.
(...) A tall, commandingly austere man with a dry, schoolmasterly manner, Mr. Saramago gained international acclaim for novels like “Baltasar and Blimunda” and “Blindness.” (A film adaptation of “Blindness” by the Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles was released in 2008.)
He was the first Portuguese-language writer to win the Nobel Prize, and more than two million copies of his books have been sold, his longtime friend and editor, Zeferino Coelho, said.
A novel by Mr. Saramago, “The Elephant’s Journey,” is to be published posthumously in English on Sept. 8 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
Mr. Saramago was known almost as much for his unfaltering Communism as for his fiction. In later years he used his stature as a Nobel laureate to deliver lectures at international congresses around the world, accompanied by his wife, the Spanish journalist Pilar del Río. He described globalization as the new totalitarianism and lamented contemporary democracy’s failure to stem the increasing powers of multinational corporations.
As a professional novelist, Mr. Saramago was a late bloomer. A first novel, published when he was 23, was followed by 30 years of silence. He became a full-time writer only in his late 50s, after working variously as a garage mechanic, a welfare agency bureaucrat, a printing production manager, a proofreader, a translator and a newspaper columnist.
(...) “Saramago for the last 25 years stood his own with any novelist of the Western world,” the critic Harold Bloom said in an interview for this obituary in 2008. “He was the equal of Philip Roth, Gunther Grass, Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo. His genius was remarkably versatile — he was at once a great comic and a writer of shocking earnestness and grim poignancy. It is hard to believe he will not survive.”
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