Raised from the Ground

Jose Saramago, Margaret Jull Costa

Raised from the Ground
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Raised from the Ground

Jose Saramago, Margaret Jull Costa

First published in 1980, Saramago’s prizewinning novel “Raised from the Ground” follows the changing fortunes of the Mau-Tempo family - poor, landless peasants not unlike the author’s own grandparents. Set in Alentejo, a southern province of Portugal known for its vast agricultural estates, Saramago charts the lives of the Mau-Tempos as national and international events rumble on in the background - the coming of the republic in Portugal, the First and Second World Wars, and an attempt on the dictator Salazar’s life. Yet, nothing really impinges on the grim reality of the farm labourers' lives until the first communist stirrings.

Finally published for the first time in English, “Raised from the Ground” is highly political yet full of Saramago’s characteristic humour and humanity, and his most autobiographical and deeply personal novel. As full of love as it is of pain, it is a vivid, moving tribute to the men and women among whom Saramago lived as a child, and a fascinating insight into the early work of this literary giant.

Review

In Raised from the Ground, the late Nobel Prize-winning novelist José Saramago has taken small plots of Portuguese land and transformed them into densely woven microcosms, creating a fascinating multigenerational epic about modern Portuguese life.

Presenting the fortunes of the Mau-Tempo family (a clan whose stories bear many parallels to the author’s own), Raised from the Ground starts with the Mau-Tempos of the nineteenth century, who live as wandering peasants. The novel goes on to depict the challenges that each later generation faces as sweeping industrial changes take hold and social and political values undergo considerable upheaval.

Initially published in Saramago’s native Portuguese in 1980, this long-overdue first translation into English is most striking for the author’s idiosyncratic prose – a style that is said to have originated from this very novel. With all speech marks removed, Saramago uses commas to divide and designate the different facets of his narrative, from dialogue to thought to descriptions to quasi-godlike tangents. Each comma-divided sentence contains a myriad of presences and voices that dovetail to create a cosmos of information and possibility. The result is an always refreshing, sometimes transcendental imagining of the human condition.

Raised from the Ground is a grand literary snapshot of a land and of a people. It is a truly epic way to consider the modern history of a master storyteller’s homeland. A fine book for anyone who enjoys literary innovation in prose, it is also a powerful Marxist look at the link between working conditions and the human spirit.


steve-bid-brown-smSteve Bidwell-Brown is a bookseller at Readings Carlton. He has previously worked as a literary events coordinator for novelists and poets, as a carnie in a travelling circus, and as a semi-professional cricketer in the UK. He likes being able to read and write.

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