José Saramago

On this date in 1922, José Saramago was born in Azinhaga, Santarém, Portugal. He dropped out of school when he was 12 to become a mechanic, and later worked as a journalist and production manager of the publishing company Estúdios Cor (1958–1971). After being fired from his position as editor of the newspaper Diário de Lisboa (1971–1975), Saramago devoted his time to writing fiction.

Saramago became an innovative and prolific Portuguese novelist, essayist and poet whose works often contained political and philosophical themes. His novels include The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (1984), The Stone Raft (1986), All the Names (1997) and Blindness (1995), which was adapted into a film in 2008. Saramago became the first Portuguese-language writer to win a Nobel Prize when he was awarded the Prize for literature in 1998. He married Ilda Reis in 1944. They divorced in 1970 and had one daughter, Violante. Saramago was later married to Pilar del Río, a journalist.

According to a New York Times Topics post (June 18, 2010), Saramago was “an outspoken atheist, one who maintained that religion is to blame for much of the world’s violence.” In an interview with Inter Press Service on Oct. 21, 2009, Saramago said: “God only exists in our minds.” He continued, “About the holy book, I tend to say: read the Bible and you’ll lose your faith.” He wrote the irreverent Cain (2009) and The Gospel According to Jesus Christ (1991), which describes Christ as an average young man with vices, in contrast to his pious depiction in the bible. In 1992, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ was deemed heretical by the Portuguese government, and Saramago was forced into exile in the Canary Islands, Spain. D. 2010

“All religions, without exception, have done humanity more bad than good.”

—José Saramago, Inter Press Service, Oct. 21, 2009.

Compiled by Sabrina Gaylor

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