Book reviews, Culture

“Skylight” on Saramago

Almost 2 years after his death, and overlooked for years by the media, the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (1998) is back in the news with the appearance of a lost work.

Walfredo Angulo

The work is “Claraboya” (“Skylight”), a book that was censored under the politics and dictatorship of Antonio De Oliveira Salazar in Portugal in the 1950s. A publishing house decided not to publish it due to its defiant stance during a particularly dark period in the history of the Lusitanian people which, like many others, Saramago confronted from hiding and in exile.

In its 300 pages, which have now been published in Spain, Portugal and Brazil, the work demonizes the social conventions and politics of the era, and this publication has granted the wish of the writer – that the work would see the light after his death.

The manuscript was given to a friend in 1953, who took it to the publishing house, and Saramago heard nothing more until 1989, when they announced that they had found it while changing premises.

Despite the fact that his first novel, “Tierra de Pecado” (“Land of Sin”), was published in 1947, the disregard of his second novel hit him hard and, according to his widow, Pilar del Rio, he didn’t write again for more than two decades. She said Saramago called it ‘the book lost and found in time,’ and showed us some of his notebooks with annotations he made while writing the book, as well as the original manuscript as it was when it was sent to the publisher.

Just over 30 years old and married with a daughter, the author was having some serious financial problems, with no one to turn to as his father and grandfather made up part of the tens of thousands of illiterate Portuguese.

Saramago used a simple format to complete the book. The narrator takes us through the skylight into an old building in Lisbon and invites us to watch as he recreates the prevailing sense of oppression and hardship. It is a book where the family, which is the pillar of society, is like a nest of vipers and the story includes rape, lesbian love, and abuse.

Saramago is one of the most read Latin authors in South America and the Caribbean.  Both before and after receiving the Nobel Prize for literature, Cuban and Brazilian editors published many of his works including “Memoirs of the convent”, “The history of the Siege of Lisbon”, “Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis”, “The gospel according to Jesus Christ”, “Blindness”, “Seeing” and “The stone raft – a critique on the integration of Portugal and Spain into the European economic community”.

As an outspoken defender of the Cuban revolution, he was proud to have been a member of the Portuguese Communist Party since its underground movement and to have taken part in the Carnation Revolution of 1974, a movement of militia and left-wing forces that brought about democratic reform in the country.

Now, to reconfirm his resurrection and immortality, it has been announced that there will be another unedited work released at the end of this year – “Alabardas, alabardas, espingardas, espingardas” (“Halberds, halberds, muskets muskets”) – which takes its title from verses by the poet and playwright, Gil Vicente (1465-1536), condemning the arms race and arms trafficking.

(Translated by Anna Lawes)

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