Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Death With Interruptions by Jose Saramago

I don’t care what you say about Portuguese communists, they write good books. Having heard of the passing of Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago earlier this month I thought I would kick things off with a review of his book about…well, death. That, and because we’re all going to die. Unless I’m wrong, and we end up living forever…but historically speaking it doesn’t look good for us.

For those of you not familiar with Saramago’s work, he is famous for exploring dark themes and human responses to the unimaginable. In Death With Interruptions, death (that’s with a lowercase “d” to you – she’s picky) takes a holiday and no one dies for a year. How do you face the possibility of not being able to die long after you’ve lost the ability to live? Is death doing us a favor by letting us linger at her door? And if there was a way to die, what price would you pay to make it happen?

There are not just personal consequences. Life insurance companies and funeral homes fear the collapse of their businesses. Hospitals scramble to cope as people continue to age and become terminally ill. Religion is hit hard. How can faith strongly steeped in the idea of death and resurrection exist when death is taken away?

In the second half of the book, death returns with a new plan. She resumes her duties, first by eliminating her backlog of overdue deaths and then by implementing the one-week warning. If you are slated to die in the next week, she will send you a lovely notice in a purple envelope so you can get your affairs in order. Is this really helpful? Is death again trying to do us a favor by giving us a head’s up before we die?

And from death’s POV, what happens when the living refuse to die? What does it mean when the purple envelope is returned unopened? And what, ultimately can cause death to discontinue her work to begin with?

A note about style: It will become very obvious very quickly that Saramago did not grow up with Schoolhouse Rocks. The book is marred by lack of appropriate punctuation, run-on sentences, and missing capitalization. Saramago is part of the Pulitzer club that likes to test the boundaries of proper writing style, not to mention the patience of his readers.

To conclude, this is a book I’m not likely to forget soon. Given our fascination with dying, Death With Interruptions makes for an interesting, compelling read if you can get past the author’s writing style. You will not be the first to think “Great story, but would it kill this guy (pun intended) to write normally?”

Posted by: Anne-Marie


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. DEATH WITH INTERRUPTIONS is a novel of ideas that also has at its heart a compelling storyline. This is the kind of literature in translation that might finally cure Americans of their insularity.