The History of the Siege of Lisbon
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The History of the Siege of Lisbon

By (author) Jose Saramago , Translated by Giovanni Pontiero

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What happens when the facts of history are replaced by the mysteries of love? When Raimundo Silva, a lowly proof-reader for a Lisbon publishing house, inserts a negative into a sentence of a historical text, he alters the whole course of the 1147 Siege of Lisbon. Fearing censure he is met instead with admiration: Dr Maria Sara, his voluptuous new editor, encourages him to pen his own alternative history. As his retelling draws on all his imaginative powers, Silva finds - to his nervous delight - that if the facts of the past can be rewritten as a romance then so can the details of his own dusty bachelor present.

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  • Paperback | 320 pages
  • 130 x 192 x 24mm | 222.26g
  • 01 Jun 2000
  • VINTAGE
  • The Harvill Press
  • London
  • English
  • 1860467229
  • 9781860467226
  • 80,530

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Author Information

Born in Portugal in 1922, Jose Saramago was one of the most important writers of his generation. He was in his fifties when he came to prominence as a novelist with the publication of Baltasar & Blimunda. A huge body of work followed, which included plays, poetry, short stories, non-fiction and over a dozen novels, including Blindness which was made into an acclaimed film. He has been translated into more than forty languages, and in 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died on 18 June 2010, shortly after the Portuguese publication of Cain.

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Review quote

"Marvellous, seriously witty, erotic and edgily surreal" -- Lucy Hughes-Hallett Sunday Times "Saramago is one of Europe's most original and remarkable writers...his writing is imbued with the spirit of comic enquiry, meditative pessimism and a quietly transforming energy that turns the indefinite into the unforgettable" -- Richard Eder Los Angeles Times "This cryptic, ingenious novel...is never dull or humourless... No candidate for [the Nobel Prize] has a better claim to lasting recognition than this novelist who was born in 1922 but was in his mid-50s before he started to publish the fiction that has won him an international reputation" -- Edmund White New York Times "A book filled with lyrical and intellectual rewards" -- Bill Marx Boston Globe "This hypnotic tale is a great comic romp through history, language and the imagination" Publishers Weekly

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Review text

A brilliantly amusing metafiction about the instability of history and the reality assumed by fiction, from the acclaimed Portuguese author (The Stone Raft, 1995, etc.). This time, Saramago tells the story of a publisher's proofreader, Raimundo Silva, a middle-aged solitary who has no life apart from his work - until his absorption in a complex historical work (about the siege of Lisbon) is derailed by a sudden, inexplicable action. Raimundo changes a single word in this text, the consequence being that it now asserts (incorrectly) that the Crusaders did not aid the 12th-century Portuguese King Alfonso in reclaiming his capital city from its Moorish occupiers. Raimundo's "insolent disregard for sound historical facts" inevitably outrages his employers, but piques the curiosity of his new editor, Maria Sara, who suggests he write a novel developing the possibilities inherent in the alternative history he has thus "created." From this point, both Raimundo's novel and Saramago's (which encloses it) assume a dizzying variety of shifting forms: dialogues between author and character(s); quotidian encounters and occurrences that are paralleled by both known history and the proofreaders's romanticized improvement of it; and transpositions of Raimundo and Maria Sara (who becomes his mistress) into the Portuguese hero Mogueime and the stalwart concubine Ouroana. Saramago moves gracefully between the world of the reinvented past and the unheroic realm in which Raimundo's pleasing fantasies are constantly interrupted by hunger pangs and ringing telephones. The novel embraces a dauntingly broad range of references, juxtaposes past and present tense mischievously, and takes the form of elegantly convoluted long sentences and paragraphs - which, though they demand intense concentration, never descend to obscurity, thanks to Saramago's lucidity and wit and his superb translator's verbal and syntactical resourcefulness. The best work we've seen yet from a consummate artificer who may well be one of the greatest living novelists. (Kirkus Reviews)

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