Saramago, José. Houghton Harcourt. Dec. 2014. 320p. tr. from Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa. ISBN 9780544090026. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780544084988. F
OrangeReviewStarNobel Prize winner Saramago's never-before-published first novel is an insightful and surprisingly suspenseful story about the tenants in a Lisbon apartment building in 1952. The characters range from Silvestre, the philosopher/cobbler, and his wife, who rent out a room to a young drifter; Lídia, a kept woman, whose lover begins to fancy a younger neighbor; Carmen and Emílio, an unhappy couple whose son is caught in the middle; grieving Justina and adulterer Caetano, who both loathe and desire each other; and sisters Adriana and Isaura, who struggle to keep a sexual secret from their aunt and mother. The daily routines and concerns of each family are rendered with touching detail and are captivating reading in their own right. But soon the complications of life lend an urgency to each character's story that makes this book hard to put down. This novel deals with the quintessential issues of life—love in all its forms, the death of body and soul, the desire for meaning and happiness—set within the simplest of circumstances.
VERDICT Saramago's novel is a delightful creation of characters with universal appeal. Readers will want to explore his other works after reading this gem. [See Prepub Alert, 6/8/14.]
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