The Lives of Things

Overview

The Lives of Things collects José Saramago’s early experiments with the short story form, attesting to the young novelist’s imaginative power and incomparable skill in elaborating the most extravagant fantasies. Combining bitter satire, outrageous parody and Kafkaesque hallucinations, these stories explore the horror and repression that paralyzed Portugal under the Salazar regime and pay tribute to human resilience in the face of injustice and institutionalized tyranny.

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The Lives of Things

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Overview

The Lives of Things collects José Saramago’s early experiments with the short story form, attesting to the young novelist’s imaginative power and incomparable skill in elaborating the most extravagant fantasies. Combining bitter satire, outrageous parody and Kafkaesque hallucinations, these stories explore the horror and repression that paralyzed Portugal under the Salazar regime and pay tribute to human resilience in the face of injustice and institutionalized tyranny.

Beautifully written and deeply unsettling, The Lives of Things illuminates the development of Saramago’s prose and records the genesis of themes that resound throughout his novels.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This collection (first published in 1978) from the late Portuguese Nobel Prize for Literature-winner Saramago (The Cave) presents some of the author's early work. Here, the literary lion experiments with shorter, more inventive forms, and the results are lucid and impressive, if occasionally uneven. Political allegory and its frequent bedfellows (the absurd and the Kafkaesque) are easily discernible here—in the excellent and unsettling "Things," we follow an anxiety-ridden civil servant living in a dystopian state in which objects begin behaving ominously. The story, wonderfully reminiscent of Gogol's "The Nose," opens with a nurse who must administer to a settee that has been overheating—"He prepare the syringe, suck in the contents of a large ampoule and briskly the needle into the settee." In "Embargo," a shortage of petrol and the attendant "panic, the hours of waiting, the endless queues of cars" causes a man's vehicle to ruthlessly immobilize him, like Gregor Samsa in the dawn of his metamorphoses vainly attempting to roll over. Though not every story is successful—"The Chair"'s exhausting fragmentation and heavy-handed politics may test some readers' patience—Saramago's considerable talent is clearly manifest. (Apr. 25)
Los Angeles Times
One of Europe’s most original and remarkable writers.
Morning Star
One of the giants of European literature...For new readers, this collection is an essential introduction to Saramago's concerns with social decay, alienation and political repression and the alternatives to them. For devotees, it is one to savour.— Siobhan McIntyre
Los Angeles Times
“One of Europe’s most original and remarkable writers.”
Kirkus Reviews
This slim collection of early, experimental stories represents a footnote on the career of the Nobel Prize–winning novelist, who died in 2010. Originally published as a collection in 1978, these stories reflect the social conscience and penchant for elaborate allegory that would flourish in his celebrated novels, such as Blindness (1998). In the introduction, translator Giovanni Pontiero (who died in 1996) explains that half of the stories "might be described as political allegories evoking the horror and repression which paralysed Portugal under the harsh regime of Salazar." Since most American readers aren't all that familiar with Portugal's political situation of the 1960s, the opening "The Chair" might be particularly impenetrable without the brief context provided by the introduction, which alludes to "the dictator's dramatic departure from the political scene on 6 September 1968, when the deckchair in which he was sitting collapsed and the shock precipitated a brain haemorrhage." The story itself is oblique and matter of fact, minutely detailed, largely devoid of passion, punctuated by the exhortation, "Fall, old man, fall. See how your feet are higher than your head." In the other stories as well, characters are unnamed, mainly described by their social positions, as the late author spins parables about an oil embargo that leaves a man all but imprisoned in his car ("Embargo"), a society in which things stop working (doors, watches, buildings, entire streets) and even disappear ("Things") and the establishment of a cemetery that becomes "a city of the dead surrounded by four cities of living human beings" ("Reflux"). "The Centaur" reads most like a fable, yet it is also the most compelling story here, as the author shows the protagonist's divided nature, referring to the mythical creature as both horse and man, who "had learned how to curb the animal's impatience, sometimes opposing him with an upsurge of violence which clouded his thoughts or perhaps affected that part of his body where the orders coming from his brain clashed with the dark instincts nourished between his flanks. Though some of the stories work well on their own, the collection will mainly interest those already very familiar with the author and his novels.
New Yorker
Saramago is a writer, like Faulkner, so confident of his resources and ultimate destination that he can bring any improbability to life.— John Updike
Guardian
No one writes quite like Saramago, so solicitous and yet so magnificently free. He works as though cradling a thing of magic.— Steven Poole
Scotland on Sunday
“These early stories are a reminder of why he deserved the Nobel prize.”
Harold Bloom
“The most gifted novelist . . . in the world today.”
John Updike - New Yorker
“Saramago is a writer, like Faulkner, so confident of his resources and ultimate destination that he can bring any improbability to life.”
Steven Poole - Guardian
“No one writes quite like Saramago, so solicitous and yet so magnificently free. He works as though cradling a thing of magic.”
Guardian - Steven Poole
“No one writes quite like Saramago, so solicitous and yet so magnificently free. He works as though cradling a thing of magic.”
Bookforum
“A poetic encapsulation of Saramago’s extraordinary talent.”
New Yorker - John Updike
“Saramago is a writer, like Faulkner, so confident of his resources and ultimate destination that he can bring any improbability to life.”
From the Publisher
“The most gifted novelist ... in the world today.”—Harold Bloom

“Saramago is a writer, like Faulkner, so confident of his resources and ultimate destination that he can bring any improbability to life.”—John Updike, New Yorker

“No one writes quite like Saramago, so solicitous and yet so magnificently free. He works as though cradling a thing of magic.”—Steven Poole, Guardian

“These early stories are a reminder of why he deserved the Nobel prize.”—Scotland on Sunday

“Bittersweet beauty but also a wickedly mischievous sense of humour ... parables in human compassion, celebrating the triumph of the human spirit.”—Irish Times

“A poetic encapsulation of Saramago’s extraordinary talent.”—Bookforum

“An intriguing coda to a fascinating career.”—Metro

“One of the giants of European literature ... For new readers, this collection is an essential introduction to Saramago’s concerns with social decay, alienation and political repression and the alternatives to them. For devotees, it is one to savour.”—Morning Star

“Here, the literary lion experiments with shorter, more inventive forms, and the results are lucid and impressive...Saramago’s considerable talent is clearly manifest.”—Publishers Weekly

The Lives of Things is a wonderful artifact ... it is, like all his books, intoxicating reading...Moribund, absurd, flickering quickly between mirth and horror, these stories are filled with the master scribe’s sibylline ruminations on mortality and language, and a gentle, blossoming beauty.”—Fast Forward Weekly

“Saramago’s prose is richly colorful, descriptive and frequently verges on shocking without being excessive. It is easy to fall into the trap of reading the same paragraph over and over again, luxuriating in the gorgeous, strange yet precise word choice but without being stuck.”—Aleksandra Fazlipour, Three Percent

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781844678785
  • Publisher: Verso Books
  • Publication date: 4/25/2012
  • Pages: 160
  • Sales rank: 1,097,609
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

The Portuguese Nobel Laureate José Saramago was a novelist, playwright and journalist. His numerous books, including the bestselling All the Names, Blindness, and The Cave, have been translated into more than forty languages and have established him as one of the world’s most influential writers. He died in June 2010.

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