José Saramago was born in 1922 to a family of landless peasants in the little village of Azinhga in the Portuguese province, Ribatejo. Two years later, his family moved to Lisbon. His parents could not afford to send him to secondary school so he attended a technical school where he trained as a mechanic. However, Saramago spent most of his time in libraries. With neither school exams nor a degree, but with an enthusiasm for literature—which he learned about himself—he worked for many years for various publishers and newspapers.
Saramago dedicated himself fully to literature after already passing the age of 50. He became abruptly famous in Portugal when he published the novel »Levantado do Chão« (1980, tr: Raised from the Earth), a chronicle about family and revolution focusing on the hardships of Portuguese farm workers. Two years later his international breakthrough came with the multi-faceted masterpiece »Memorial do Convento« (1982; tr: »Baltasar and Blimunda«, 1987). The construction of a monumental cloister in 18th century Portugal, during which many of the tens of thousands of tenured labourers died, provides the backdrop for the love story between Baltasar and Blimunda. Saramago’s novels, in which the avowed Communist and atheist repeatedly writes against repression of any kind and passionately takes up the cause of the simple people, are known for their imagistic and at times baroque language that is frequently interrupted by sarcasm or irony. The author’s imagined worlds masterfully combine history with mythical and surreal fiction. When his novel »O Evangelho Segundo Jesus Cristo« (1991, tr: »The Gospel According to Jesus Christ«, 1993) was struck from Portugal’s list for the European Literature Prize because of accusations of blasphemy, he moved to Lanzarote. One of his most famous works is the apocalyptic parable »Ensaio Sobre a Cegueira« (1995, tr: »Blindness«, 1997), which was adapted for the cinema by director Fernando Meirelles in 2008. The haunting novel about a society which is going blind and is in danger of losing all humanity in the struggle for survival remorselessly poses the question of the foundations of shared human existence. »I write to disconcert«, said the author, who continued to sharply criticize the abuses of globalised capitalism in his blog up until the very end. Saramago received many Portuguese and international literary awards, including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. He died on June 18th 2010.