All the Names
  • All the Names
  • All the Names

All the Names

4.1 28
by José Saramago
     
 

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Senhor José is a low-grade clerk in the city's Central Registry, where the living and the dead share the same shelf space. A middle-aged bachelor, he has no interest in anything beyond the certificates of birth, marriage, divorce, and death that are his daily routine. But one day, when he comes across the records of an anonymous young woman, something… See more details below

Overview


Senhor José is a low-grade clerk in the city's Central Registry, where the living and the dead share the same shelf space. A middle-aged bachelor, he has no interest in anything beyond the certificates of birth, marriage, divorce, and death that are his daily routine. But one day, when he comes across the records of an anonymous young woman, something happens to him. Obsessed, Senhor José sets off to follow the thread that may lead him to the woman-but as he gets closer, he discovers more about her, and about himself, than he would ever have wished.

The loneliness of people's lives, the effects of chance, the discovery of love-all coalesce in this extraordinary novel that displays the power and art of José Saramago in brilliant form.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A psychological, even metaphysical thriller that will keep you turning the pages in spite of yourself, and with growing alarm and alacrity."-The Seattle Times
"A novel that reminds readers how much loneliness can be like death. . . . Saramago is one of the best."
-Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
"Within the first few pages, Saramago establishes a tension that sings on the page, rises, produces stunning revelations and culminates when the final paragraph twists expectations once again."-Publishers Weekly (starred)
"From the beginning, Saramago is in perfect control of the narrative, and the result is a tour de force."-Denver Post
PRAISE FOR BLINDNESS
"Blindness is a shattering work by a literary master."
-The Boston Globe
"This is an important book, one that is unafraid to face all the horrors of the century."-The Washington Post
"Extraordinarily nuanced and evocative . . . This year's most propulsive, and profound, thriller."-The Village Voice

Robert Irwin
...a fine powerful parable.
The New York Times Book Review
Times (London)
The Swedish Academy's citation called his novels 'parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony.' It is a description which perfectly captures his latest novel.
Merle Rubin
Saramago's gentle voice rings with the unmistakable authority of the true artist.
Christian Science Monitor
Philip Connors
...a master far from content to rest on his laurels.
The Wall Street Journal
Jean Charbonneau
...a highly intelligent, complex novel, both exasperating and impressive...a book that's not simply read, but experienced.
Denver Post
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The deceptive simplicity of Nobel Prize-winner Saramago's prose, and the ironic comments that he intersperses within this story of an obsessional quest, initially have a disarming effect; one expects that this low-key exploration of a quiet man's eccentric descent into a metaphysical labyrinth will be an extremely intelligent but unexciting read. Unexciting: wrong. Within the first few pages, Saramago establishes a tension that sings on the page, rises, produces stunning revelations and culminates when the final paragraph twists expectations once again. The title refers to the miles of archival records among which the protagonist toils at the Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths in an unnamed small country whose inhabitants still live by ancient rules of hierarchical social classes. The registry is quixotically disorganized so that the files of those most recently deceased are buried under miles of paper at the furthest remove of the massive building. After more than two decades at the job, 50-year-old Senhor Jos is still a mere clerk in the bureau. A penurious, reclusive, lonely bachelor, Senhor Jos has only one secret passion: he collects clippings about famous people and surreptitiously copies their birth certificates, purloining them from the registry at night and returning them stealthily. Purely by accident, the index card of a 36-year-old woman unknown to him becomes entangled in the clippings he steals. Suddenly, he is stricken by a need to learn about this woman's life. Consumed by passion, this heretofore model of punctilious behavior commits a series of dangerous and unprofessional acts. He forges official papers, breaks into a building, removes records from institutions and continues to enter the registry after dark--all punishable offenses. To carry out his mission, he is forced to become practical, clever and brave. But the more risks he takes, the more astonishing events occur, chief among them that the remote, authoritarian Registrar takes a personal interest in his lowly employee. Meanwhile, Senhor Jos himself discovers shocking facts about the woman he seeks. Saramago relates these events in finely honed prose pervaded with irony, but also playful, mocking and witty. Alternately farcical, macabre, surreal and tragic, this mesmerizing narrative depicts the loneliness of individual lives and the universal need for human connection even as it illuminates the fine line between the living and the dead. First serial to Grand Street, the Reading Room and Doubletake; QPB and Reader's Subscription Club selection; author tour. (Oct.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Senhor Jose is a low-level clerk in the Portuguese Civil Registry of births, deaths, and marriages, where it is next to impossible for him to squeeze out of that rigid hierarchy even one miserable half-hour off work. A middle-aged bachelor with no interest in anything beyond the dates and facts that are his daily fare, he is especially fascinated by the vital statistics of celebrities. One day he becomes particularly preoccupied by the birth certificate of an anonymous young woman who he learns is a mathematics teacher. As he becomes more and more obsessed with her, his resolve to learn all that he can about her leads to tragedy. The loneliness of people's lives, the effects of chance and sudden flashes of recognition, and the discovery of tentative love are all skillfully woven together in this imaginative parable of the living and the dying. Saramago, the 1988 Nobel literary laureate, has here written a tantalizing anatomy of an obsession. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/00.]--Jack Shreve, Allegany Coll. of Maryland, Cumberland Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Adam Langer
There is a certain comforting feeling you can get from being in the presence of greatness. Like watching the Chicago Bears of 1985 or the Montreal Canadiens of the 1970s, listening to John Coltrane blaze through "My Favorite Things" or Hoagy Carmichael croon "Baltimore Oriole." The outcome is never in doubt. The key game will assuredly be won. A false note will not be struck. All you have to do is sit back, relax and let it all unfold. This soothing sense also comes from reading the fiction of Jose Saramago. A master storyteller and fabulist in the tradition of Franz Kafka, Italo Calvino and G.K. Chesterton, the Portuguese-born, 1998 Nobel Prize-winning author of Blindness, The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, The History of the Siege of Lisbon and The Gospel According to Jesus Christ speaks in a voice that is at once timeless and instantly recognizable. The voice--mellifluously translated by Margaret Jull Costa (who has replaced Saramago's longtime translator, the late Giovanni Pontiero)--is contemplative yet breathless, playful yet detached, matter-of-fact and yet jarringly passionate. Sentences overlap each other, lines of dialogue are separated from each other only by commas in a serpentine stream of unconsciousness. There is never a moment in his fiction that one doesn't feel oneself in the presence of a master. The voice that narrates All the Names, Saramago's latest work to be translated into English, is an eerily sepulchral one, a voice that seems almost to speak from beyond the grave. The novel is, in some sense, a detective story. And though there is precious little action, and the only violence consists of a skinned knee visited upon a clumsy, would-be amateur cat burglar, the book has a compulsive, can't-put-it-down page-turnability to it. Senhor Jose, an unremarkable civil servant in an unnamed city's Central Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths, leads a life as gray and rainy as the city around him. Unmarried and in his fifties, his only amusements are his occasional visits to prostitutes and his one hobby--compiling newspaper clippings about celebrities. While copying down information about these celebrities from the files at the Central Registry--a gray, labyrinthine place lorded over by a distant godlike figure referred to only as the Registrar--he stumbles upon the file card of a thirty-six-year-old woman and, thinking it to be destiny, sets out to discover all he can about her life. His desperate search for the unknown woman leads Senhor Jose on a consistently surprising and often harrowing journey that finds him becoming more and more bold, leading him to forge documents, ask probing questions of her neighbors, break into the school she attended as a child and, in one particularly chilling scene, spend a night in another labyrinth: the city's sprawling, overgrown cemetery, which Saramago describes as an octopus with sixty-four tentacles. The unofficial motto of the cemetery is the same as that of the Central Registry: All the Names. Saramago's novel doesn't have the same tireless ferocity as Blindness, which described with unremitting terror the chaos and brutality that result when an epidemic of white blindness strikes a city. This is a quieter piece, one that has more in common with the desperate romance and intellectual playfulness of The History of the Siege of Lisbon, in which a mischievous copy editor named Raimundo--who has more than a little in common with All the Names' Senhor Jose--changes one word in a history book and, in so doing, attempts to change history itself. Though the new novel does not require of the reader any arcane historical knowledge, the sporadically self-referential All the Names does, in fact, contain knowing references to that work and others (including the slim 1999 parable The Tale of the Unknown Island), as well as references to Saramago's life; he did work until age sixty as a civil servant, and the inspiration for this novel comes partly from his attempts to find out about his brother who died more than seventy years ago at the age of four. It is also a rich, literary work rife with references to Virgil, Dante, Herman Melville and Heraclitus, and echoes of Umberto Eco and Jorge Luis Borges. Though in interviews Saramago has often played down parallels between his love of labyrinths and that of the brilliant essayist and short storyteller Borges, much of All the Names reads like the one great novel that the master of the short form never wrote. Saramago is often referred to as an atheist writer, and his Nobel Prize drew the ire of the Vatican, which blasted the Nobel committee for honoring an "inveterate communist with anti-religious views." And, yet, there is not only a masterful wit at work here but also a spiritual quality and a solemnity. And they mitigate what might otherwise have been a particularly bleak and morbid, though still intellectually challenging, meditation on how we view the living and the dead, celebrity and obscurity, loneliness and the search for human connection. The final moment of the book, when Senhor Jose, armed with only a flashlight, begins finding his way through the dark realm of the dead, is a strangely hopeful one. Life springs out of death, hope emerges from despair, sight follows blindness and even in the seemingly all-encompassing darkness, one of our time's greatest novelists can't help himself from letting shine a small glimmer of light.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780156010597
Publisher:
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
10/28/2001
Edition description:
Translatio
Pages:
264
Sales rank:
566,267
Product dimensions:
5.18(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.66(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"A psychological, even metaphysical thriller that will keep you turning the pages in spite of yourself, and with growing alarm and alacrity."-The Seattle Times
"A novel that reminds readers how much loneliness can be like death. . . . Saramago is one of the best."
-Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
"Within the first few pages, Saramago establishes a tension that sings on the page, rises, produces stunning revelations and culminates when the final paragraph twists expectations once again."-Publishers Weekly
"From the beginning, Saramago is in perfect control of the narrative, and the result is a tour de force."-Denver Post PRAISE FOR BLINDNESS
"Blindness is a shattering work by a literary master."
-The Boston Globe
"This is an important book, one that is unafraid to face all the horrors of the century."-The Washington Post
"Extraordinarily nuanced and evocative . . . This year's most propulsive, and profound, thriller."-The Village Voice

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