The Lives of Things

A surreal short story collection from the master of what-ifs

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.


  • “A poetic encapsulation of Saramago's extraordinary talent…Saramago's stories have a renewed vibrancy in the current climate of doomsday scenarios, broken balance sheets and government debt. They remind us that when the law fails, a good metaphor can take its place.”
  • “An intriguing coda to a fascinating career.”
  • “Easily bears comparison to Calvino and Borges, albeit with a more politically astute edge...a welcome reminder of why he deserved the Nobel.”
  • “One of the giants of European literature...For new readers, this collection is an essential introduction to Saramago's concerns with social decay, alienation and political repression and the alternatives to them. For devotees, it is one to savour.”
  • “Here, the literary lion experiments with shorter, more inventive forms, and the results are lucid and impressive…Saramago's considerable talent is clearly manifest.”
  • The Lives of Things is a wonderful artifact…it is, like all his books, intoxicating reading…Moribund, absurd, flickering quickly between mirth and horror, these stories are filled with the master scribe’s sibylline ruminations on mortality and language, and a gentle, blossoming beauty.”
  • “Saramago's prose is richly colorful, descriptive and frequently verges on shocking without being excessive. It is easy to fall into the trap of reading the same paragraph over and over again, luxuriating in the gorgeous, strange yet precise word choice but without being stuck.”


  • Verso Beach Reads

    Not sure which radical books to bring with you to the beach this summer? We've come up with an eclectic mix of surrealist fiction, anti-heroic memoir, dazzling investigative reporting, and, as always, revolutionary reads for your time in the sun. Like John Grisham, but not actually bad for your soul, they'll keep you engrossed, entertained, and enlightened til the fall.

    Plus, all books on this list will be 50% off on our website for this week (June 23-30), with free shipping, as usual, and free ebook where available (but no e-readers in the pool plz).

    Continue Reading

  • And so we have vampire squids: Michael Thomsen on José Saramago and political allegory

    With the one-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street's initial encampment in downtown Manhattan drawing closer, Michael Thomsen reviews José Saramago's story collection The Lives of Things, mapping the ways in which it demonstrates the political power of allegory. Gaining philosophical strength from the author's graceful "metaphysical inspection" of dire material premises, Thomsen commends Saramango for revealing "the parallel fragility of authority and idealism" through both his plot lines and his stylistic inclinations:

    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:

    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.

    Visit Bookforum to read the review in full. 

  • Exclusive: read the José Saramago short story, Revenge, from The Lives of Things

    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 . 


Other books by José Saramago