cover image Skylight


José Saramago, trans. from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-544-09002-6

Completed in 1953 but not released in the author’s native Portuguese until 2011 (and appearing here in English for the first time), this early novel from Nobel winner Saramago (Blindness) details the day-to-day exploits of several families and individuals living in an apartment building in Lisbon. Silvestre, a cobbler, and his wife take in a young boarder named Abel. As time passes, the two men launch into a series of conversations on philosophy and existence. Troubled marriages lurk behind the doors of Caetano and Justina—he’s a jealous womanizer, while she continues to mourn the death of their daughter—and of Emílio and Carmen, who quarrel over their young son. Seamstress sisters Isaura and Adriana, living with their mother and aunt, find themselves confused after a night of romantic indiscretion. And Lídia, a kept woman, begins to question her lover’s intentions after she convinces him to offer a job to her neighbor, a beautiful 19-year-old. Throughout, characters intersect, yet their narratives often proceed without creating a tangled web, making the novel more resemble a linked collection. Saramago, who was still a novice in the 1950s, pads some moments and lingers a bit too long on minor episodes, but overall, the novel spins a series of frank, honest stories that strike deep. This translation offers fans the opportunity to read the pages that helped shape a master. (Dec.)