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Remembering José Saramago: 5 Most Fascinating Facts About His Life

5 years ago
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José de Sousa Saramago left this world much as he lived his life: subtly but decisively. The 87-year-old, Nobel Prize-winning Portuguese novelist -- who just last year was said to be "still going strong" -- died early this morning, according to a note posted on his website:
Today, Friday, June 18, Jose Saramago passed away at 12:30 hours at his home in Lanzarote, at 87 years of age, as a result of multiple organ failure after a long illness.

The writer died while accompanied by his family, saying goodbye in a serene and tranquil manner.
Saramago is perhaps best known in the English-speaking world for his 1995 best-selling novel "Blindness," which was adapted into a 2008 movie featuring Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo. It tells the story of a sudden epidemic of spontaneous loss of sight that strikes most of the inhabitants of an unnamed city, leading to societal collapse.

His most famous work, however, is "The Gospel According to Jesus Christ," a controversial interpretation of the Christian savior's formative years that includes graphic depictions of sexuality, violence and religious doubt. It was published in 1991 and promptly censored by the Portuguese government upon religious pressure from the Catholic Church in the country.

In 1998, Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his "idiosyncratic development of his own resonant style of fiction. ... His oeuvre resembles a series of projects, with each one more or less disavowing the others but all involving a new attempt to come to grips with an elusory reality." (The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded for an author's entire body of work, although certain works have been highlighted as particularly noteworthy in some cases.)

As avid readers around the Web mourn his loss, Surge Desk rounds up the most fascinating facts about Saramago's life:

1. His family faked his own birthday. According to Saramago himself, in his Nobel Prize autobiography, "Though I had come into the world on 16 November 1922, my official documents show that I was born two days later, on the 18th. It was thanks to this petty fraud that my family escaped from paying the fine for not having registered my birth at the proper legal time."

2. He was an ardent Communist. "Mr. Saramago was known almost as much for his unfaltering Communism as for his fiction," The New York Times writes today. "In later years, Mr. Saramago used his status as a Nobel laureate to deliver lectures at international congresses around the world, accompanied by his wife, the Spanish journalist Pilar del Rio. He described globalization as the new totalitarianism and lamented contemporary democracy's failure to stem the increasing powers of multinational corporations." His political views were shaped immensely by growing up during the period of time when the fascist militias and secret police were active in Portugal.

3. He was a blogger, too. As mentioned in a 2008 Guardian profile of the author: "In September ... the octogenarian author began a blog on his foundation's website, with a 'love letter' to Lisbon. He used to write for newspapers, he says, 'but now I'm writing every day, and there have been a million visits -- which I find astonishing -- but I'm doing it all for free.' His topics range from the credit crunch to advice for divorcing couples on how to divide a library."

4. He wasn't so popular in his native city. Even though Saramago considered himself "first of all Portuguese," a separate New York Times profile of him in 2007 noted that many of his fellow Portuguese citizens thought ill of "Saramago's own unaccommodating personality. Everywhere I went in Lisbon in June, people described him as 'cold,' 'arrogant,' 'unsympathetic.' When my interpreter inquired at a DVD store if a documentary about Saramago was in stock, the young salesman, startled by the request, replied, laughing, 'I hope not!'"

5. He wants Morgan Freeman to play him in a movie.
As he told the Financial Times last year when asked who he would want to portray him in an biographic film: "A good black actor. Morgan Freeman, for example." Saramago was white.
Filed Under: Surge Desk

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