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Raised from the Ground

Raised from the Ground

by José Saramago, Margaret Jull Costa (Translator)

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"Essential...A novel that resounds with relevance for our own time." —New York Times Book Review

First published in 1980, the City of Lisbon Prize–winning Raised from the Ground follows the changing fortunes of the Mau Tempo family—poor landless peasants not unlike Saramago’s own grandparents. Set in Alentejo, a southern


"Essential...A novel that resounds with relevance for our own time." —New York Times Book Review

First published in 1980, the City of Lisbon Prize–winning Raised from the Ground follows the changing fortunes of the Mau Tempo family—poor landless peasants not unlike Saramago’s own grandparents. Set in Alentejo, a southern province of Portugal known for its vast agricultural estates, the novel charts the lives of the Mau Tempos as national and international events rumble on in the background—the coming of the republic in Portugual, the two world wars, and an attempt on the dictator Salazar’s life. Yet nothing really impinges on the grim reality of the farm laborers’ lives until the first communist stirrings.

Raised from the Ground is Saramago’s most deeply personal novel, the book in which he found the signature style and voice that distinguishes all of his brilliant works.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
Saramago himself was…born and reared in the world he evokes here—and his intimate, particular knowledge of peasant life is one of several reasons the novel transcends propaganda, by a long shot. Others include his gift for lyric realizations of the countryside…and his skill at enacting physicality—pleasure, fatigue, hunger or the suffering of a tortured striker…Like António the hare-catcher, Saramago is "a great teller of tales about things he has either seen or invented, experienced or imagined," and possesses "the supreme art of being able to blur the frontiers between the two." Luckily, Margaret Jull Costa has shown congruent skill in bringing his work across that other key frontier, the one between languages. Her concise footnotes help the reader unpack Portuguese literary references and wordplay, while also supplying necessary historical background. Her efforts have lent us access, at last, to a great writer's first major work…
—Steven Heighton
Library Journal
Even as it weathers financial storms, this publisher continues putting out works by the great Portuguese Nobel prize winner that have not yet been translated, and we can only be grateful. This latest, a City of Lisbon prize winner published in 1980, just before Saramago made his name with Baltasar and Blimunda, offers the author's classic understanding of the personal through larger historical forces. Like his own grandparents, members of the peasant Mau Tempo family work the land they don't own in southern Portugal, which is dominated by huge agricultural estates. Even as he details their daily lives, Saramago shows us the coming of the republic of Portugal, two world wars, the attempted assassination of Salazar, and, finally, the one thing that does change the rhythm of the Mau Tempos' lives, the rise of communism.
Kirkus Reviews
An early, epic novel by the late Nobel Prize winner, for completists steeped in knowledge of the author's work and his native Portugal. Though this novel won the City of Lisbon Prize upon publication in 1980 and has since been praised as both seminal stylistically and deeply personal, this translation represents its first publication in English, more than three decades later. And even fans of the fables and parables of Saramago (Blindness, 1998, etc.) will likely find the novel a mixed bag, with flashes of brilliance offset by stretches of tedium, amid oblique references to Portuguese politics and culture that brief footnotes can barely illuminate. The novel encompasses three generations of the agrarian peasant Mau Tempo family, treated little better than cattle by the landowners who employ them. "These men and women were born to work, like good to average livestock," writes the author, whose own family origins were similar. At times, the narrative slips into first-person from different characters, at other times, it offers the perspective of an ant, and yet other times, the distinction between the ant's view and a human's might be obliterated. Similarly, the authorial presence is very much in evidence throughout, with a droll tone, though the lack of any progress over the course of decades and generations seems tragic. "[W]e're so used to laughter turning into tears or a howl of rage so loud it could be heard in heaven, not that there is any heaven," he writes, of a conspiratorial exploitation that finds the church and government in league with each other, supporting the status quo, exercising power over the powerless. Even the natural order can't provide solace, since "nature displays remarkable callousness when creating her various creatures." As in the American naturalism of Frank Norris and Stephen Crane more than a century ago, the characters are but cogs in a big, cold machine, born to die but supplying their own replacements before they do. A novel that offers insight into the renowned author and his native land.
From the Publisher

Praise for José Saramago and Raised from the Ground

"Essential...A novel that resounds with relevance for our own time." —New York Times Book Review

"A beautifully written epic...Raised from the Ground presents a breathtaking view of this momentous period in Portugal's history." —Daily Beast

"Drawn from the experiences of the author's own ancestors, the novel is sustained by Saramago's rich descriptions, which can capture a span of time in a single image...or telescope a moment into a mystical event." —The New Yorker

"A fascinating, personal portrait of a nation and its people…A great example of Saramago’s distinct voice and style, famous for its insightfulness and inventiveness and keen use of parable and irony." —Real Simple

"Saramago is arguably the greatest writer of our time." —Chicago Tribune

"A beautifully modulated performance, juxtaposing scenes of great, often tender lyrical beauty with scenes of violence and despair…Raised from the Ground resonates powerfully as a personal statement of beliefs." —Richmond Times-Dispatch

"In the case of the Portuguese writer José Saramago, the Nobel Committee got it right for once." —The Seattle Times

"It isn’t Saramago’s political pessimism that makes him a great novelist, although one may well share it. It’s his profligate interest in life, his storyteller’s joy with words, his understanding that the realms of experience and ideas need not be separate, his belief in the possibility of finding love and changing your life at any age, his lyricism on such subjects as food and sleep, his undiluted affection for all his characters." —Salon.com

"Reading the Portuguese writer José Saramago, one quickly senses the presence of a master." —The Christian Science Monitor

"A masterly piece of work, beautifully shaped and composed and emotionally affecting… Saramago doesn’t demand that readers weep for his characters. He just demands respect for their quiet lives and limited possibilities." —The Onion’s A.V. Club

"[Saramago’s] narrative voice is unmistakable: a mature, quiet voice, conversational and easy, often ironical or endearingly humorous, that flows forward always weaving and interbraiding with itself, wandering but never losing impetus, like a big river running through a dry land." —Ursula K. LeGuin, The Guardian

"Hypnotic, lyrical and dynamic…Raised from the Ground is a lovely and fascinating read, fiction of the highest order." —Toronto Star

"Saramago seamlessly juxtaposes bleak realism and fanciful folklore as only someone who lived the harshest of reality can dare… Sometimes it is delivered with great wisdom, and other times, unexpectedly, with humor, yet all Saramago’s prose is rendered without any sense of distance from the characters he has created." —The Post and Courier

"Saramago's poetic and political fans of the English-speaking world will unite in appreciation for this long-awaited translation." —Booklist

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.04(h) x 1.27(d)

Read an Excerpt

HERE, IT’S MOSTLY countryside, land. Whatever else may be lacking, land has never been in short supply, indeed its sheer abundance can only be explained by some tireless miracle, because the land clearly predates man, and despite its long, long existence, it has still not expired. That’s probably because it’s constantly changing: at certain times of the year, the land is green, at others, yellow or brown or black. And in certain places it is red, the color of clay or spilled blood. This, however, depends on what has been planted or what has not yet been planted, or what has sprung up unaided and died simply because it reached its natural end. This is not the case with wheat, which still has some life left in it when it is cut. Nor with the cork oak, which, despite its solemn air, is full of life and cries out when its skin is ripped from it.
   There is no shortage of color in this landscape, but it isn’t simply a matter of color. There are days as harsh as they are cold, and others when you can scarcely breathe for the heat: the world is never content, the day it is will be the day it dies. The world does not lack for smells either, not even here, which is, of course, part of the world and well provided with land. Were some insignificant creature to die in the undergrowth, it would smell of death and putrefaction. Not that anyone would notice if there were no wind, even if they were to pass close by. The bones would be either washed clean by the rain or baked dry by the sun, or not even that if the creature were very small, because the worms and the gravedigger beetles would have come and buried it.
   This, relatively speaking, is a fair-sized piece of land, and while it begins as undulating hills and a little stream-water, because the water that falls from the skies is just as likely to be feast as famine, farther on it flattens out as smooth as the palm of your hand, although many a hand, by life’s decree, tends, with time, to close around the handle of a hoe, sickle or scythe. The land. And like the palm of a hand, it is crisscrossed by lines and paths, its royal or, later, national roads, or those owned by the gentlemen at the town hall, three such roads lie before us now, because three is a poetical, magical, spiritual number, but all the other paths arise from repeated comings and goings, from trails formed by bare or ill-shod feet walking over clods of earth or through undergrowth, stubble or wild flowers, between wall and wasteland. So much land. A man could spend his whole life wandering about here and never find himself, especially if he was born lost. And he won’t mind dying when his time comes. He is no rabbit or genet to lie and rot in the sun, but if hunger, cold or heat were to lay him low in some secluded spot, or one of those illnesses that don’t even give you time to think, still less cry out for help, sooner or later he would be found.
   Many have died of war and other plagues, both here and in other parts, and yet the people we see are still alive: some perceive this as an unfathomable mystery, but the real reasons lie in the land, in this vast estate, this latifundio, that rolls from high hills down to the plain below, as far as the eye can see. And if not this land, then some other piece of land, it really doesn’t matter as long as we’ve sorted out what’s mine and thine: everything was recorded in the census at the proper time, with boundaries to the north and south and to the east and west, as if this were how it had been ordained since the world began, when everything was simply land, with only a few large beasts and the occasional human being, all of them frightened. It was around that time, and later too, that the future shape of this present land was decided, and by very crooked means indeed, a shape carved out by those who owned the largest and sharpest knives and according to size of knife and quality of blade. For example, those of a king or a duke, or of a duke who then became his royal highness, a bishop or the master of an order, a legitimate son or the delicious fruit of bastardy or concubinage, a stain washed clean and made honorable, or the godfather of a mistress’s daughter, and then there’s that other high officer of the court with half a kingdom in his grasp, and sometimes it was more a case of, this, dear friends, is my land, take it and populate it to serve me and your offspring, and keep it safe from infidels and other such embarrassments. A magnificent book-of-hours-cum-sacred-accounts-ledger presented at both palace and monastery, prayed to in earthly mansions or in watchtowers, each coin an Our Father, ten coins a Hail Mary, one hundred a Hail Holy Queen, Mary is King. Deep coffers, bottomless silos, granaries the size of ships, vats and casks, coffers, my lady, and all measured in cubits, rods and bushels, in quarts, pottles and tuns, each piece of land according to its use.
   Thus flowed the rivers and the four seasons of the year, on those one can rely, even when they vary. The vast patience of time and the equally vast patience of money, which, with the exception of man, is the most constant of all measurements, although, like the seasons, it varies. We know, however, that men were bought and sold. Each century had its money, each kingdom its man to buy and sell for maravedis, or for gold and silver marks, reals, doubloons, cruzados, sovereigns or florins from abroad. Fickle, various metal, as airy as the bouquet of a flower or of wine: money rises, that’s why it has wings, not in order to fall. Money’s rightful place is in a kind of heaven, a lofty place where the saints change their names when they have to, but not the latifundio.
   A mother with full breasts, fit for large, greedy mouths, a womb, the land shared out between the largest and the large, or, more likely, joining large with larger, through purchase or perhaps through some alliance, or through sly theft, pure crime, the legacy of my grandparents and my good father, God rest their souls. It took centuries to get this far, who can doubt that it will always remain the same?
   But who are these other people, small and disparate, who came with the land, although their names do not appear in the deeds, dead souls perhaps, or are they still alive? God’s wisdom, beloved children, is infinite: there is the land and those who will work it, go forth and multiply. Go forth and multiply me, says the latifundio. But there is another way to speak of all this.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"Offers insights into the renowned author and his native land." -Kirkus   "Saramago's poetic and political fans of the English-speaking world will unite in appreciation for this long-awaited translation."-Booklist

Meet the Author

JOSÉ SARAMAGO (1922–2010) was the author of many novels, among them Blindness, All the Names, Baltasar and Blimunda, and The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. In 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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