The Lives of Things collects José Saramago’s early experiments with the short story form, attesting to the young novelist’s imaginative power and incomparable skill in elaborating the most extravagant fantasies. Combining bitter satire, outrageous parody and Kafkaesque hallucinations, these stories explore the horror and repression that paralyzed Portugal under the Salazar regime and pay tribute to human resilience in the face of injustice and institutionalized tyranny.
Beautifully written and deeply unsettling, The Lives of Things illuminates the development of Saramago’s prose and records the genesis of themes that resound throughout his novels.
The Lives of Things shows Saramago's sense of language in full bloom, with winding sentences that interrupt themselves again and again, subdividing a simple statement with qualifiers and tangents that make any notion of "truth" seem like a trick of perspective.
Though clearly shaded by a (perhaps familiar) sense of hopelessness—Thomsen writes of "doomsday scenarios, broken balance sheets, and government debt"—the review alludes to the idea that in Saramago's poetic, winding parallel worlds we find novel ways to frame our own struggles. The stories have a "renewed vibrancy" in our time:
Visit Bookforum to read the review in full.
They remind us that when the law fails, a good metaphor can take its place. And so we have vampire squids, hooded sweatshirts worn in solidarity, tents propped up on sticks because the police say they can't be placed on the ground.
The Lives of Things by José Saramago is published today, the 38th anniversary of Portugal's Carnation Revolution. One of the stories, Revenge, is published today in the Morning Star:
The boy was coming from the river. Barefoot, with his trousers rolled up above his knees, his legs covered in mud.
He was wearing a red shirt, open in front where the first hairs of puberty on his chest were beginning to blacken. He had dark hair, damp with the sweat that was trickling down his slender neck. He was bent slightly forward under the weight of the long oars, from which were hanging green strands of water-weeds still dripping. The boat kept swaying in the murky water, and nearby, as if spying, the globulous eyes of a frog suddenly appeared. Then the frog moved suddenly and disappeared. A minute later the surface of the river was smooth and tranquil and shining like the boy's eyes. The exhalation of the mud released slow, flaccid bubbles of gas which were swept away by the current. In the oppressive heat of the afternoon, the tall poplars swayed gently, and, in a flurry, like a flower suddenly blossoming in mid-air, a blue bird flew past, skimming the water. The boy raised his head. On the other side of the river, a girl was watching him without moving. The boy raised his free hand and his entire body traced out some inaudible word. The river flowed slowly...
Visit the Morning Star to read the full story .
In a two-part installment, Guernica Magazine has excerpted "Things" from José Saramago's short story collection, The Lives of Things. To be published on April 25 to coincide with Portugal's Carnation Revolution, The Lives of Things comprises Saramago's sole collection of short fiction and offers a look at his early experimentations with the themes of social decay, alienation, and political repression that would become hallmarks of his celebrated novels.
Visit Guernica to read "Things" in full.