Review | Monday 26 November 2012
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 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.