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SMALL MEMORIES by José Saramago


A Memoir

by José Saramago translated by Margaret Jull Costa

Pub Date: May 11th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-15-101508-5
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

A slim, elliptical, often poetic memoir by the late Portuguese winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The opening pages of this posthumously published memoir of early childhood by Saramago (The Elephant’s Journey, 2010, etc.) are so rapturously enthralling that they set a standard the rest of the narrative—mainly a series of anecdotes, seemingly random and arbitrary—cannot fully sustain. “Only I knew, without knowing I did, that on the illegible pages of destiny and in the blind meanderings of chance it had been written that I would one day return to Azinhaga to finish being born,” he writes of his birth in a peasant village before he moved with his family to Lisbon before his second birthday—after that he spent time alternating between the two (the writing here mainly and more lovingly portrays the country than the city). Though an early and avid reader with an eye for significant detail, his “silent, secret, solitary self” as a boy gave little hint of the literary master he would become. His mother remained illiterate throughout his life, as were the maternal grandparents to whom he so often returned. Without apparent thematic focus—other than the vagaries of memory and perhaps the ambiguities of boyhood innocence—the memoir hopscotches chronologically through his experiences with dogs, horses and crops; his schooling; his initiation into sexual arousal; and his family. He reveals that he’d initially attempted a volume with the more ambitious title, The Book of Temptations, before realizing that his reminiscences were more modest, “the small memories of when I was small.”

A nonfictional footnote to a brilliant career in fiction.