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Thursday, March 08, 2018

The History of the Siege of Lisbon (1989) by Jose Saramago


Book Review
The History of the Siege of Lisbon (1989)
by Jose Saramago


   It was a big Nobel Prize in Literature win for Jose Saramago in 1998, the first by a Portuguese writer, and of course, the kind of thing that can ensure solid English language canonical status for non-English writing authors.   The History of the Siege of Lisbon was published in the original in 1989, the English translation came in 1996, so unlike many of his pre-Nobel Prize in Literature titles, it was translated into English before he won.

   The History of the Siege of Lisbon is an incredibly verbose book, combining elements of Italo Calvino, Borges and Umberto Eco, about an interpreter who decides to rewrite the history of the siege of Lisbon by inserting a "NOT" into the sentence where the writer begins to describe the help of travelling Crusaders for the Portuguese attackers.

 Raimundo Silva, the interpreter-protagonist thinks in ornate, multi-clause sentences that confound reader attempts to keep track of all but the most basic gist of the plot.  As he wanders around Lisbon, he seeks to actually conjure up his alternate history in the landscape, and he also grapples with what might be called "woman issues."

  Other than the density of the language, much of The History of the Siege of Lisbon presents the familiar scenario of a European novelist writing about a character who has trouble deciding what to do.  That's almost every European novel- some man dithering. 

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