cover image Manual of Painting and Calligraphy

Manual of Painting and Calligraphy

José Saramago, trans. from the Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero Carcanet. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $13.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-547-64022-8

After publication of the late Nobel Prize winner’s final novel, Cain, along comes the first English-language translation of this early work. The first-person narrative centers on H., a disgruntled artist who paints flattering yet vapid portraits for wealthy clients while living in 1970s Portugal. H. has a circle of friends that he rarely sees, and midway through the book, his girlfriend breaks up with him. Increasingly alienated and dissatisfied with his painting, H. turns to writing. While he claims that “life is extremely simple,” H. tends to overthink things and sees himself in everything. The question becomes, will H. find a way to reconcile his art, writing, and philosophy with his relationship to people? Themes that flourish in Saramago’s later work—including leftist politics and alternative histories of Christianity—are also present in H.’s diatribes. Saramago’s novel succeeds as a meditation on the writing process and a philosophical look at fiction and reality—for Saramago devotees, this is an insightful and meaningful book. Agent: Nicole Witt, Literarische Agentur Mertin. (May)