6 of 1001 Books: Jose Saramago’s The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis

Upon opening this book I didn’t think I would like it as much as I did but, the character and story grew on me as I continued on. Jose Saramago is a very unique writer in the way he depicts his character’s threw his style. While my unfamiliarity with Portuguese’s history did hurt my ability to understand some areas it did make me more curious to learn. The setting also helps in the time of 1936 which, seems to give the story a beautiful backdrop.

The year is 1936 and, Ricardo Reis has returned to Portugal from Brazil  after a 16 year stay in the middle of huge countries for the country. A new dictator is beginning his reign and, Reis is settling into the very bland city of Lisbon. In Lisbon he lives in a hotel before settling into an apartment where he falls into two different attractions with two different women, one the daughter of a rich man and, the other a chambermaid. He also begins meeting with the ghost of a dead poet, Fernando Pessoa, who is beginning the process of leaving earth in 9 months.


It is sort of everyone who is attached to Ricardo Reis that makes it interesting. All these people around him have interesting lives that sort of spiraled forward by Reis. Lydia, the chambermaid, could almost have a whole book of her own. You feel terrible of how she is being treated by Ricardo but, with the way she handles it you would have believed this has happened before and, there is also Marcenda, who seems less inclined to fall into Ricardo’s ways and, her handicapped hand seems to have left her feeling inadequate as far as being a companion to another.

Fernando ends up being the very odd part of the book because while he does infuse some of the culture and beliefs from that region this book seems heavily based in the historical and relational aspect of the time there also so, when it wanders down a supernatural path it gives it a different flare as well. The biggest advice before reading the book though would just to be research what was happening in 1936 Portugal with the likes of Victor and such to understand more.

The biggest thing to get over to read this book though was how it was written. There are the use of commas and punctuation but, you have nothing to separate the dialogue from the narrative. So when the character’s begin talking it’s easy to jump into but, the fact it all runs together sometimes in one paragraph can get you jumbled up especially if you are a quicker reader like me.

Saramago has wrote an adventurous project with this one that would also garner itself a Nobel Prize for Literature. There are some beautiful moments captured in the life of Ricardo that still stick with you after you have finished the book. With the proper places for including dialogue though it might have made it even stronger.  On top of that Fernando Pessao was a real poet and, Ricardo Reis is based on one of his characters he did write for another bit of interesting to add to the story.

Rating 7 of 10.

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