Hungry people were punished for gathering acorns, usually pig food, from rich landowners forests. People worked dawn to dusk not knowing in advance what their wage would be that was completely up to the landowner. (And Portuguese church attendance even today is one of the lowest among Catholic countries.) The church supported the wealthy landowners, preaching obedience to law, while priests spent their time saying private masses in the homes of the wealthy. Its amazing that people even survived these generations of such hard times and its no surprise to learn that Portugal historically has had one of the highest rates of emigration, akin to that of Irelands due to the potato famine.
Implicitly, this is the history of Portugal in the twentieth century that this author Portuguese tells.
I sat in the Lisbon he described, walked the Rua Augusta the Mau-Tempos walk when they first embark upon the city, and I envisioned their trepidation: "so many people, so much traffic, and we're not used to walking on pavements, we keep slipping and sliding in our fear of the trams, and you two fall over, which makes Lisbonites laugh, What bumpkins, they cry." We end up not noticing those lives, so Saramago writes about them.
Raised from the Ground, by Nobel Prize winning author José Saramago is a mid-career novel (1980) that has only just been translated into English. The achievement of Raised from the Ground is that Saramagos intimate knowledge of the peasant life his grandparents led, brings it alive.
Its not that, as per the novel's theme, which concerns the life events in a family of very poor agricultural workers over the span of four generations, I have been a similar actor, but that I have plenty of stories shared by my grandparents, who, at least half of them, were actually in a very approximative situation: landless peasants struggling to survive in a difficult social and economic environment. It is about the man living on the latifundio, strong and quick on his feet, who had to slow down to accommodate to painful pain of having being raised from the dead, because each day is a struggle with illness, starvation, even death, and to cheer himself up regardless of weather, regime, people, work, etc. Its about the living ghosts (labourers) who, when the night falls, trudge themselves up to the places where they have their lodgings (in most cases far away from their actual homes) Or, in the best way described precisely by the narrator, its about the man being nothing but a latifundio rabbit, cutting cork, scything, pruning, hoeing, weeding and why do they not weary of such monotony, every day the same as the last, at least as regards the scant food and the desire to earn a little money for tomorrow, which hangs over these places like a threat, tomorrow, tomorrow is just another day, like yesterday, rather than being the hope for something new, if thats what life is. His reasons are so well justified: he has spent his whole life simply earning his daily bread, and some days he doesnt even manage that, and this thought immediately forms a kind of knot inside his head, that a man should come into a world he never asked to be born into, only to experience a more than normal degree of cold and hunger as a child, if there is such a thing as normal, and grow up to find that same hunger redoubled as a punishment for having a body capable of withstanding such hardship, to be mistreated by bosses and overseers, by guards both local and national, to reach the age of forty and finally speak your mind, only to be herded like cattle to the market or the slaughterhouse, to be further humiliated in prison, and to find that even freedom is a slap in the face, a crust of bread flung down on the ground to see if youll pick it up. Thats what we do when a piece of bread falls onto the ground, we pick it up, blow on it as if to restore its spirit, then kiss it, but we wont eat it there and then, no, Ill divide it into four, two large pieces and two small, here you are Amelia, here you are Gracinda, this is for you and this is for me, and if anyone asks who the two larger pieces are for, he is lower than animals, because Im sure even an animal would know. In his way of thinking the communists (the red kite flying high in the story) might have been able to provide a better solution to the lives of people living on the latifundio.
Caro José, mi sono trasformata in una formica, come quella che alza la testa al modo dei cani e guarda, dal basso verso lalto, ciò di cui sono capaci certi esseri umani. Terra dura così come dura è la vita dei suoi poveri braccianti.
A prosa está perfeitamente enquadrada, ao narrar uma história do povo em linguagem do povo.
O meu avô não fez mais que a quarta classe porque tinha que cuidar de uma vaca. O meu avô trabalhou toda a vida para o mesmo patrão, não havia outro. Escravos de uma terra que não lhes pertenceu nunca. Este livro é uma mancha de sangue em forma de homenagem aos trabalhadores rurais que nunca deixaram a sua dignidade de lado, escravizados nas suas terras, escravos do lucro, dos luxos, das casas em Lisboa, dos carros e dos palácios dos donos.
A foundation with his name was established in 2007; its main aims are cultural promotion, particularly of Portuguese literature and authors. The José Saramago Foundation is currently based in Casa dos Bicos, a Portuguese landmark building in Lisbon.