Reading books by Saramago can be compared to taking a journey into a magical place. In this rather brief autobiography of his childhood, his prose is like poetry and it transports me into a higher plane. He makes language powerful. The images he creates are so beautiful and picturesque that sometimes I feel as if I am there with him, a child too, sharing the moment. I don’t know how he does it, but the complex sentences he composes are magnificently expressive and the punctuation is so perfect, that the lengthy sentences are entirely readable and decipherable.
Through the introduction of a variety of flashbacks, from his early boyhood, he transports us from his grandmother’s home (as well as other relatives and acquaintances), to his parent’s home, back and forth, affording us a window to look through, offering us a wonderful glimpse of some of the more memorable incidents that shaped his life. Often, I did get confused, as to where I was and how old he was, in a particular reminiscence. The timeline was sometimes confusing and as it began abruptly, almost as if it was in the middle of a thought, it also ended that way. I was left wanting more of his, seemingly random, magical memories. I wanted a wider lens into his background but he only offered a tease, magnificent though it was, of a brief period of time in his life. However, with these small inconsistencies, nothing major is lost and any confusion was worth it because the end result was, as usual, superlative.
The story is told with a touch of subtle humor as well as poignancy. It feels to be a very open and honest appraisal of boyhood events that left their mark on him. It is the story of a youth that was spent discovering the shape of the man, he would then become.
I do have one rather major problem with Saramago. I have heard that some people will not read his books because of his marked anti-Semitism and abhorrent remarks and views about Jews and Israel, and yet, he makes a small point of hinting, in this book, albeit very briefly, in one sentence, about his considered distaste for three men and their policies: Salazar, Hitler and Mussolini. All three are known for repressive policies. Perhaps he felt some small measure of guilt for his past extraordinarily distasteful and hateful comments, regarding Jews and Israel. Perhaps not, but I certainly hope so, because his writing is magnificent and I would hate to see people deprived of his gift because of his misplaced vitriolic, spoken and written words, which come from, for me, his deplorable ideology. The five stars are for his creative gift, not for his unfortunate views.
I received this book as an ARC and will be forever grateful because, regardless of his hatefulness with respect to Israel and the Jewish people, which has spread in his part of the world, perhaps due, in no small measure to his philosophy, his writing is exceptional and with his death, the world has lost a master of words.