"The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis" by Jose Saramago

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The story, as near as we can tell, occurs in Portugal, in 1936, at a time when fascism is spreading over Europe. Ricardo Reis (King Richard?) is going to die, or in fact decides he will die. There is a close relationship between the moribund main character and the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. In fact, Pessoa, although already dead at the time of the narrative, is a confidant of the main character, and in some ways is represented by him. I don't know enough of Pessoa or his work to judge the meaning or implications of this.
This is a book in which Saramago abjures some of the niceties of tense, quotation marks, and the usual distinctions between narration of events and philosophical exposition. I believe his intent was to blur these distinctions - his idea is that action is philosophy. He admires the users of Latin who originally said, actions speak louder than words. Actions also have their roots in ideas, and certainly Europe in the 1930s had plenty of idea-rooted action. What is the significance of this character dying in the face of fascism's spreading power? It doesn't seem likely, but is this a book about the death of monarchies? What of the apparent ability to know things of death while still being alive, and knowing about current events when one has died?

This is distinctly a book of politics, philosophy, and ideas. It is frankly, but rather mildly, fantastic; its fantastical elements are gently yoked to the ideas on offer. A very distinctive and thought-provoking book, it is sometimes tough sledding - perhaps a translation issue. I recommend this piece. It seems like a good starting poing for tackling Saramago and Pessoa, and Portuguese literature in general.
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