José Saramago to Visit Costa Rica

June 17, 2005

THIRTEEN years after the Portuguesegovernment barred José Saramago’s“The Gospel According to Jesus Christ”from competing for the 1992 EuropeanLiterary Prize, Costa Rica’s clamor for avisit from the literary giant will finally payoff. The 1998 Nobel Literature Prize winnerwill arrive June 22 to confer three daysof speeches and other appearances on hisreaders in the Central Valley.The religious piece, too contentious forPortugal, which deemed it offensive toCatholics, is among a collection of attention-grabbing plays and novels in a careerthat began in earnest perhaps in 1980, withthe publishing of “Risen from the Ground.”Saramago, then 58, was at the tail end of aprofessional life that began as a mechanicin an auto repair shop and weaved amongstints with the Social Welfare Service, ametal company, a publisher, a translator andwith two newspapers before he dedicatedhimself to writing fiction in the mid-1970s.IN 1995 he published “Blindness,” thestory of a plague of contagious blindnessthat strikes a city, person by person. Thegovernment attempts to contain it withruthless quarantine measures one step shortof outright extermination, but the plaguegrips the city and the citizens are helplessto defend themselves against their ownbrutality and hunger. Society degeneratesinto a groping search for food and escapefrom boredom between feedings, withgraphically portrayed chaos and filth punctuatedwith moments of philosophical claritywhen characters reveal their insightsinto the causes of their plights, and the bestcourses to take.He followed the novel with “All theNames” in 1997, the year before he wonthe Nobel Prize. In it, a paper shuffler at alabyrinthine Central Registry of Births,Marriages and Deaths secrets away officialinformation about famous people, makingmidnight raids on the registry until onenight he accidentally picks up the birth certificateof an ordinary, 36-year-old woman.Her ordinariness ignites an obsession thatleads him out of the catacombs of old documentswhere he has whiled away twodecades of his life, and he begins a searchfor the mysterious woman.His latest novel, “Ensaio Sobre aLucidez” (Essay on Lucidity), not yettranslated into English, could be considereda sequel, of sorts, to “Blindness.”Voters in an unnamed country collectivelyturn in blank ballots during a national election,apparently in an unplanned massprotest of governmental ineptitude, stokingparanoia among government leaders whofear foreign agitation and dangerous levelsof organization.SARAMAGO is credited with coiningthe phrase: “Public opinion is the secondworld power.” In a Dec. 15, 2002, speechin Madrid, before hordes of Spanish protestersof the then-imminent war in Iraq,he said, “It is not an exaggeration to sayworld public opinion against war hasbecome a force with which the powerfulhave to contend.”His outspoken left-leaning politicalviews and his reflective, softly ironic prosethat does not flounder in intellectualismbut is held aloft with tense, sometimes disturbingplots turned Saramago into a literaryand popular force in his own right.NEXT Thursday, he will deliver a dissertationto students at Universidad Nacional(UNA) in Heredia, north of San José,at 3 p.m. On June 24, he will inaugurate theInternational Book Fair at 7 p.m., at theCentro Expocisión Pedregal in San Antoniode Belén, north of San José. June 25, hewill present his latest book, “Ensaio Sobrela Lucidez” (translated into Spanish), at 2p.m. at the fair, then sign books from 3:15-4 p.m. Later that evening he will give a presentationat the National Theater in downtownSan José, where UNA will award himan honorary doctorate.

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