Saramago Route

José Saramago was born on 16th November 1922 in Azinhaga, a village in the province of Ribatejo that was as humble as his own family. Although he grew up in a house without books, he soon fell in love with them. He first came into contact with literature at school, but later, when he had to leave to start work as a toolmaker, the thrall in which books held him ensured he was a regular visitor to his local library.

Intellectually curious, the young Saramago became an autodidact and a man committed to the causes of his time. An opponent of Salazar and his dictatorship, he joined the Communist Party in 1969. He was also a staunch critic of the Catholic Church, the target of choice of some of the books he would later write, such as “Baltasar and Blimunda” (1982), “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” (1991) and “Cain” (2009).

Until devoting himself fully to his literary career, which he did from 1976 onwards, he had various professions. He was a draughtsman, health and social worker, translator, editor and journalist.

His first novel, “Land of Sin”, dates from 1947. It took him another 19 years to publish his second book, a volume of poetry called “Possible Poems”. In the years that followed, his literary output was regular and wide-ranging, encompassing fields as varied as poetry, novels, short stories and plays.

As a novelist, he achieved recognition when he won the “Cidade de Lisboa” award for “Raised from the Ground”, which became an international bestseller. For the novel “Baltasar and Blimunda” (1982), considered his most iconic work, he received the “Pen Clube Português” award. “The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis” (1984) won the “Prémio da Crítica”, “Prémio Dom Diniz”, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the “Pen Clube Português” award again.

A year later, he was made a Commander of the Military Order of Saint James of the Sword (in 1998 he was promoted to the rank of a Grand Collar of the same Order, an honour generally reserved only for heads of state). In 1995, he was awarded the highest accolade in Portuguese literature, the “Prémio Camões”, and three years later won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Translated into 42 languages, his work began to gain recognition from the film industry in 2008 when his novel “Blindness” (1995), directed by Fernando Meirelles, was adapted for the big screen. This was followed in 2010 by the film adaptation of a short story from the book “The Lives of Things” which was made into the film “Embargo” by the Portuguese director António Ferreira.

After marrying his second wife, the Spanish journalist Pilar del Rio, he settled in Lanzarote, in the Canary Islands, in 1993. Always aware of the world around him, his literary achievements never prevented him from devoting his energies to the causes which interested him. In 2007, he set up the Fundação José Saramago to defend and disseminate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and environmental problems, but he did not live long enough to witness its inauguration in 2012 at the Casa dos Bicos in Lisbon.

He died in Spain on 18th June 2010, but the foundation he gave his name to continues to promote the cultural and social project presided over by his wife, Pilar del Rio.