Small Memories by Jose Saramago

Small Memories by Jose Saramago

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: A rustic and rural childhood merges dreamingly into episodes from Lisbon between the Wars, in this small but pleasant and very friendly book from the Portuguese Nobel winner.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 208 Date: November 2009
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 978-1846551482

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Having been born in 1922 and lived through so much of the twentieth century, with an author's view of change and people, Jose Saramago has certainly experienced a lot. Civil Wars in the neighbouring Spain; the growth of his country - which still left it as western Europe's poorest. Here he allows us witness to his mind drifting through his childhood, in the country and in Lisbon, and provides a subtle and gentle memoir.

It's noticeable early on that however gritty any city-based scenes may be, there was an idyllic start to his life. He returns later on to the olive groves of his childhood, and sees - horror on horrors - that European funding money and farming bureaucracy have ruined them. They're now fields of maize.

We get family history when we see how he was given an unintended name - and why his birth certificate will forever remain with a further error on it. We get the young child growning up in his parent's rented digs in the capital, with neighbours never talked to, beasties under the bed courtesy of the local cinema's output, accidents when people give him too many chocolates, and a look at how he learnt to read.

Is it possible, perhaps, that Saramago might be the last Nobel Prize for Literature winner whose mother died illiterate? It's just one thought this look back at a recent age paradoxically long gone might raise. Saramago doesn't exactly have the life to provide for much that is exceptionally unusual in his memoirs but he can at times write in a distinctive way.

We see him correct himself as regards dates and locales for his memories, which does not get in the way but might raise an eyebrow as to how appropraite this may be. It certainly manages to gel with the at-times circuitous look around his youth, which also helps add to the friendly mood of this book.

It can at times, then, seem a little ad hoc, and improvised too quickly. But the gentle spirit of it all, and the chance to learn a little more about this man and his beginnings, is most welcome. The incidents included are never earth-shattering, but there's little need with the pastoral and the serene combining so nicely into a vivid and enjoyable little tome. Read if you're a fan of childhood memoirs, or his award-winning novels, such as Blindness - there are several references to the ideas for them burgeoning throughout his life.

I must thank the kind Harvill Secker people for my review copy.

For a fictionalised look at a Nobel Laureate's life we can recommend Summertime by J M Coetzee. You'll probably also enjoy A Life Like Other People's by Alan Bennett.

Buy Small Memories by Jose Saramago at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Small Memories by Jose Saramago at

Buy Small Memories by Jose Saramago at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Small Memories by Jose Saramago at


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Last modified on 8 April 2018, at 08:29