Small Memories: A Memoir

Jose Saramago, Author, Margaret Jull Costa, Translator
José Saramago, trans. from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22 (192p) ISBN 978-0-15-101508-5
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Weaving together memories of his Portuguese childhood, Nobel Prize–winner Saramago (1922–2010) presents a lyrical portrait of the artist as a young man. Born in the small village of Azinhaga and raised in Lisbon, Saramago recounts his early days not in the traditional linear fashion but as snippets of reminiscences that flow from one topic—and time period—to another. The days spent in Azinhaga, exploring the countryside with a child's keen eye for adventure and spending time in his maternal grandparents' cottage, are beautifully depicted and resonate even more deeply when Saramago describes the modernization that has made his boyhood home unrecognizable. Readers will also recognize the trademark undercurrent of wit in Saramago's stories, such as how a village joke resulted in his surname being recorded incorrectly on his birth certificate ("Saramago" means wild radish) and how an early attempt to master French was actually a childhood introduction to Molière. Yet all is not merry as Saramago recalls the tragic death of his older brother, Francisco, at age four, which causes him to explore the concept of so-called "false memories," as well as his family's poverty. With its poetic style, this posthumous memoir is the perfect coda to Saramago's distinguished career. (Apr.)
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