THE HISTORY OF THE SIEGE OF LISBON
A brilliantly amusing metafiction about the instability of history and the reality assumed by fiction, from the acclaimed Portuguese author (The Stone Raft, 1995, etc.). This time, Saramago tells the story of a publisher's proofreader, Raimundo Silva, a middle-aged solitary who has no life apart from his work--until his absorption in a complex historical work (about the siege of Lisbon) is derailed by a sudden, inexplicable action. Raimundo changes a single word in this text, the consequence being that it now asserts (incorrectly) that the Crusaders did not aid the 12th-century Portuguese King Alfonso in reclaiming his capital city from its Moorish occupiers. Raimundo's "insolent disregard for sound historical facts" inevitably outrages his employers, but piques the curiosity of his new editor, Maria Sara, who suggests he write a novel developing the possibilities inherent in the alternative history he has thus "created." From this point, both Raimundo's novel and Saramago's (which encloses it) assume a dizzying variety of shifting forms: dialogues between author and character(s); quotidian encounters and occurrences that are paralleled by both known history and the proofreaders's romanticized improvement of it; and transpositions of Raimundo and Maria Sara (who becomes his mistress) into the Portuguese hero Mogueime and the stalwart concubine Ouroana. Saramago moves gracefully between the world of the reinvented past and the unheroic realm in which Raimundo's pleasing fantasies are constantly interrupted by hunger pangs and ringing telephones. The novel embraces a dauntingly broad range of references, juxtaposes past and present tense mischievously, and takes the form of elegantly convoluted long sentences and paragraphs--which, though they demand intense concentration, never descend to obscurity, thanks to Saramago's lucidity and wit and his superb translator's verbal and syntactical resourcefulness. The best work we've seen yet from a consummate artificer who may well be one of the greatest living novelists.