Raimundo Silva, a proofreader at a Portuguese publishing house, takes it upon himself to alter a key word in a text to make it read that in 1147 the king of Portugal reconquered Lisbon from the Saracens without any assistance from the Crusaders. His revision of a signal episode in Portuguese history unexpectedly and inexplicably wins the heart of his supervisor, Maria Sara, a woman of unwavering conviction. Rather than fire him as she ought to, Maria encourages Raimundo to rewrite the history of the siege of Lisbon in the grand style of a historical romance. Around this seemingly minor episode Jose Saramago constructs a broad, multifaceted tableau involving meditations on historiography and the uses and abuses of language, a parable of life under authoritarian rule, and a bittersweet romance.
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"If proofreaders were given their freedom and did not have their hands and feet tied by a mass of prohibitions more binding than the penal code, they would soon transform the face of the world, establish the kingdom of universal happiness, giving drink to the thirsty, food to the famished, peace to those who live in turmoil, joy to the sorrowful ... for they would be able to do all these things simply by changing the words ..." The power of the word is evident in Portuguese author José Saramago's novel, The History of the Siege of Lisbon. His protagonist, a proofreader named Raimundo Silva, adds a key word to a history of Portugal and thus rewrites not only the past, but also his own life.
Brilliantly translated from the Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero, The History of the Siege of Lisbon is a meditation on the differences between historiography, historical fiction, and "stories inserted into history." The novel is really two stories in one: the reimagined history of the 1147 siege of Lisbon that Raimundo feels compelled to write and the story of Raimundo's life, including his unexpected love affair with the editor, Maria Sara. In Saramago's masterful hands, the strands of this complex tale weave together to create a satisfying whole.About the Author:
JOSÉ SARAMAGO (1922–2010) was the author of many novels, among them Blindness, All the Names, Baltasar and Blimunda, and The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. In 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
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