Raised from the Ground by Jose Saramago

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Raised from the Ground by Jose Saramago

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: The last century of Portugal's history and politics conveyed lightly and effectively in a sort-of family saga.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: November 2012
Publisher: Harvill Secker
ISBN: 9781846557064

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Domingos is a feckless man, a man often neglecting his family, and hitting his wife due to too much drinking, a man often leaving everyone behind as he chases work and flees his debts. He calls himself a shoemaker but really he's little different from those around him, who actually do have to move about, chasing what seasonal agricultural work is available. Certainly his children and their children, in turn, will mostly be bound to the land they sprang from - the 'latifundio' – and the spirit of both all of them, and of it, throughout the Portuguese twentieth century, are the subjects of this early Jose Saramago novel, in English for the first time after a thirty-year wait.

It does seem strange that a book both so linked to his life and his oeuvre has a posthumous and most belated debut, for this has as much of a factional tale, an autobiographical spirit, and connection to Jose Saramago as his autobiography. This is a land of banditry, hard manual labour from morn to night and then some, a world affected more by ancient feudalism and land-ownership, than by such things as WWII. It's a land where politics – and Portugal's was certainly lively – had little bearing on anyone until such new-fangled ideas as unions and workers' rights came to the fore in the fields, and left-wing thinking clashed with a right-wing dictator figure much further removed.

It's a land evoked so powerfully here that it is to all events and purposes the actual narrator, even if he chooses to be one of Domingos' descendants here and there. It's a book that could do with a family tree or list of dramatis personae but carries its population through a very poetically-described landscape and calendar in a very light manner. It has a few translator's notes to explain some references but doesn't need much work to enjoy, however diaphanous the timeline gets to be. Even in the 1980s, Saramago had his style of lengthy paragraphs with no dialogue punctuation, and clarity is clearly something he had to think about, even when put alongside his most literary flourishes of style.

So, on the whole, it's a book for all, but perhaps to be liked more by those with a bit more Portuguese connection and knowledge than I. I was reminded of Ismael Kadare, and of how his novels are both fully-fledged stories and yet educational, cultural documents from a left-wing standpoint about the very nature of his country (in Kadare's case, of course, Albania). Both writers may seem to be too deep and profound and to have won too many awards, to be enjoyable, but this is a very successful survey of seventy years or so in the life of one dynasty, and how their lives changed in that time. For us Brits, our novels of pastoral becoming industrial would like as not be just some girly bodice-ripper. This is so much more, and as I suggest has a very Portuguese stamp on it, and it takes an author of real note, such as Saramago, to form such a seal.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

For another read where the countryside is the main character, and which sticks to bandits and forsakes the politics, you might enjoy Memory of the Abyss by Marcello Fois. We also enjoyed Cain by Jose Saramago and Crumbs by Miha Mazzini.

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Buy Raised from the Ground by Jose Saramago at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Raised from the Ground by Jose Saramago at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Raised from the Ground by Jose Saramago at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Raised from the Ground by Jose Saramago at Amazon.com.


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