Author: Jose Saramago
Translator: Giovanni Pontiero
Why I picked it up: Heard about the author’s death, had book recommended by a friend
Rating: 4 stars
Mary looked at him in dismay, Are we leaving, she asked, Yes, this very minute, But you said, Be quiet and start packing while I harness the donkey. Aren’t we going to eat first. No, we’ll eat something on the way. But it will soon be dark and we might get lost, whereupon Joseph lost his temper.
These are cruel times indeed, when a pregnant woman comes knocking at our door and we deny her shelter in a corner of the yard and send her off to give birth in a cave, like the bears and wolves. Something pricked our conscience however, and, getting up from where we were sitting, we went to the door to see for ourselves this husband and wife who so desperately needed a roof over their heads. The sadness in that poor girl’s face was enough to arouse our maternal instinct, so we patiently explained why we could not possibly take them in, the house was already crowded with sons and daughters, grandchildren, in-laws. As you can see, there simply isn’t any room here, but our slave will take you to a cave we use as a stable.
My description of the writing style may make this novel sound like a tough read, but surprisingly I found it wasn’t at all difficult. The story flowed smoothly and felt very natural. I really enjoyed this style and I look forward to reading Saramago’s other novels.
The story itself was also beautifully crafted. The characters and relationships between them illustrated in the novel (especially those between Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Mary Magdalene) felt very real, emotional and believable. I felt something for each one of those characters.
This is a fairly hefty novel but not once did I find myself bored with it. Maybe that’s just me…but I found myself wanting to keep reading to experience more of the characters and the style.
My knowledge of the Bible is not as great as it probably should be, but I was able to pick up on two events that Saramago interpreted differently than the Bible: the story of Lazarus and the story of Judas Iscariot. I found it impressive how easily Saramago was able to craft different interpretations of each of these characters and yet do so in such a believable way.
As you can tell, I was pretty impressed with this novel. Clearly I need to read more novels like this one…I’m very much looking forward to reading Blindness and Death With Interruptions, which are currently sitting in a book crate under my bed.