The book: The History of the Siege of Lisbon, by José Saramago
The edition:Italian translation by Rita Desti, as published by Einaudi in paperback, 338 pages
The story: Raimundo Silva is a proofreader for a Lisbon editor and a completely gray, insignificant and unnoticeable person until the day he inexplicably decides to enter a mistake in one of the books he is working on. Because of that small act, his life changes and he finds himself entangled in a love interest. And because the mistake was inserted in a book called “History of the Siege of Lisbon”, so that it said that the Christian did not conquer Lisbon, Silva starts to see his own town with Arab (Medieval Arab, that is) eyes.
My experience with the book & my thoughts: while I do usually like Saramago, this was a bit tough. I can see no reason for anything that happens. Still, the intersection of two moments in time (the siege of Lisbon and Raimundo’s romance in present-day Lisbon) is done brilliantly. The rest? I don’t get it. Silva is not dreaming of changing his life, he seems quite content, so why does he make that intentional error? And why would he… (continued in the part with spoilers)… So the idea is good, the story not so much.
The part with spoilers: And why would he fall in love with Maria Sara, and she with him? Wouldn’t he fall in love in exactly the same way with any new woman he met at that moment?
What I liked: the way reality is portrayed as two-layered and see-through, seamlessly passing from the Middle Ages to the present.
What I didn’t like: inept characters that never behave themselves as adults.
Language & translation: I don’t know if it’s the original or the translation that did it, but this is the first Saramago book I read where his signature fullstop-less style bothered me, the first time I had to go back on some sentences to understand their construction.
In the author’s own words: I wanted to share some, especially a passage where Silva explores present-day Lisbon following the traces of the ancient Moorish walls (and I’d like to see for myself if that route exists), but I couldn’t find anything on the web. If you have access to the English version of this book and want to help, please contact me! Thank you!
Links to better understand this book:
- A general view of the history of Portugal (scroll down to “Moorish Portugal” and “Christian Reconquest”)
- About the siege of Lisbon in 1147
Random thought: I wonder if proofreaders in different countries use different codes. The symbol used by Silva on the first page is one I never encountered.
Read this if: if you already like the rest of Saramago’s work.
Counts as: Travel with Books – Lisbon