- José Saramago: History, Utopia, and the Necessity of Error by Mark Sabine
Mark Sabine's José Saramago. History, Utopia and the Necessity of Error is a book many scholars interested in Saramago's work have looked forward to for a long time. The volume is an important contribution to the yet sparse existing critical bibliography on Saramago published in English, despite the fact that a large number of his books are already translated into this language and that there is an increasing international academic interest in his work. Sabine is one of the most prominent experts on the fictional production of the winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature. If the genesis of the volume is related to Sabine's PhD research nearly two decades ago, José Saramago: History, Utopia and the Necessity of Error constitutes a long, mature, and theoretically well-anchored study on the evolution of the Portuguese writer's work as well as Sabine's growth as a literary scholar.
Despite focusing his attention on Saramago's novelistic production of the 1980s, a remarkable prolific decade that would be decisive to Saramago's consecration as one of the major writers of the twentieth century, Sabine examines the five novels that constitute his corpus in perspective: Levantado do chão (Raised from the Ground, 1980), Memorial do convento (Baltasar and Blimunda, 1982), O ano da morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, 1984), A jangada de pedra (The Stone Raft, 1986), and História do cerco de Lisboa (History of the Siege of Lisbon, 1989). In other words, by drawing relevant parallels between these works with Saramago's previous and later production, Sabine sheds a new light on the 1980s novels, thus bringing relevant new critical insights to existing scholarship on Saramago's work.
The volume presents a solid and well-designed introduction in which Sabine explains his interest in the novels under analysis and discusses his theoretical and methodological options to examine the texts and to put them into dialogue. In his introduction Sabine provides the reader with a detailed account of the historical and cultural context of Portugal during Salazar's authoritarian regime and after the 1974 April Revolution when Portugal faced the challenge of (re)writing the nation and confronting the public representations of national memory disseminated during Salazar's long dictatorship. This contextualization is complemented by the reference to major conceptual models of Marxist and post-structuralist Marxist thinkers that informed Saramago's work, and to which Sabine returns to throughout the chapters, with a particular focus on the ideas of Gramsci, Adorno, Marcuse, and Amílcar Cabral. This historical, cultural, and ideological contextualization is key to the reader's understanding of how and to what extent the novels under analysis constituted an engaged aesthetic response to the need to rethink the national imagery and to forge a cultural identity stemming from historical consciousness and from the need to exercise a responsible [End Page E23] citizenship in a moment of historical transition. Moreover, in his introduction Sabine situates the 1980s novels within the diverse framework of historical fiction taking into account the different models deriving from historians' new positioning towards history making and narration modes and its impact on the literary rewriting of history and the novelists' drive to question and deconstruct grand narratives.
It is also in the introduction that the reader learns about the importance of the error in Saramago's work, a central element in Sabine's book as the title of the volume attests. Drawing from a reference to the "necessity of error" found in Memorial do convento, Sabine demonstrates how the reflection on error is key to his characterization of Saramago's "aesthetics of 'alienation,' of dissonance, dissent and unresolved dialectical oppositions" (Sabine, 19), through which the Portuguese novelist attempts not only to deconstruct hegemonic historical narratives in epistemological and ideological terms, but also to suggest the need for a "revised socialist 'micropolitics'" (Sabine, 26), as his late production would demonstrate. The reflection on the necessity of error also proves to...