Tuesday, October 9, 2012

José Saramago - Claraboia

Dawn breaks over Lisbon one mid-20th century morning. The novelist looks out the window in a neighborhood; there is nothing to indicate this day will be any different: Silvestre, the shoe-maker, opens the door to his workshop, Adriana leaves for work while in her home three woman begin another full day of sewing, Justina is looking at another long bout of fighting with her brutal husband; Lidia, the kept woman, and Carmen, the Spaniard, lost in nostalgic thoughts.
Discreetly, the novelist's gaze travels downward. Suddenly, he stops being a humble witness to become each one of the neighborhood's characters. With each chapter he jumps from one house to the next, from one person to another, to reveal a world ruled by need, by great frustrations and small illusions, by a longing for a time that wasn't any better than this one. Everything is cloaked by the dreary silence of the dictatorship, Beethoven's symphonies, and a question from Pessoa: Should all of us be married, futile, and taxable?
Saramago finished writing Claraboia when he was 31 years old. He delivered the manuscript to an editorial only to receive a response forty years later, once he was an already established and renowned author. The patient and highly-detailed writing masterfully portrays an era marked by despair. Claraboia anticipates the dazzling elements of Saramago's universe and the virtuous mind that will later give birth to a wealth of masterpieces. In these pages we hear Jose Saramago's voice, recognize his characters, and identify the clarity and compassion that, according to the Swedish Academy, distinguish his work. 

Note: Claraboia = skylight

Comment: The 5th book I've read by this fellow citizen of Portugal. José Saramago has won a Nobel Prize back in 1998 and is still one of the most known Portuguese authors of all times.

The book is said to have been written when he was young but he never published it. Actually it's rather obvious while reading because of the way it's written and the more light theme. Although set when my country was still under a dictatorship, the book doesn't focus on that, except by a sign here and there. The focus is more on the characters and their lives. This is the story of six families, they all live in the same building, and most likely in one of the most ancient neighborhoods of Lisbon.
In the book, the author jumps from house to house to tell a bit of the life story of each family and what they are going through at the time. It's like we get to spy on them through a lens, something like a skylight... But in the end, I think it's more of a tale of fate and choices.

To be honest, I've had this book since last year, when a friend gave it to me as a Christmas present. I postponed its reading for a while because it's a big book (my Portuguese edition has 398 pages) and I feared it would be like some of his most heavy works, which have so many little details one has to be very focused while reading and also because of the lack of punctuation, a trait know to be one of the author's trademarks.
But I've decided it was time and I'm very glad I did.
The book, lie I said, tells us the lives of six families, and although we don't have any special highlight about the character's physical descriptions, page after page we get to understand how all of them are and what drives them. We see in their lives the motivation and the issues and the illusions and the way of life of so many people back in the 50s in Portugal. I wouldn't say the six families are a stereotype of everyone in Portugal at the time but it gives us an overall idea of how people would act and think. From the dreamers and the hopeful to the despaired and resigned ones.
Some of them made me think and others were just characters on the page. Funny how an action of a comment by one of them would start a set of occurrences and from there, the rest of the story. I think the end was rather abrupt to some of the families, but I really enjoyed the story,
Actually, I liked it so much it took me only one day to read the whole book. This book was easy to read, it was fluid, it had a better punctuation than some of his other books which, I think, it's the most obvious proof of when it was written. The tone of the story was lighter too, because despite the author has put some words in his characters that are clearly his ideas and thoughts, he managed to make a story like a soap opera but with so many darker and philosophical tidbits in no way can it be seen as cheap literature. It's just that, by the way it develops and how it's presented, graphically, it gets easier to be read. At least to me.
I really liked the book. i think it's wonderful, especially for those who haven't tried the author and want to but fear something too heavy. This book is perfect for beginners in Saramago's work. And it's in no way a lesser work, at that.

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