Nobel Prize-winning writer José Saramago came from very humble origins. He was born into a poor rural family in central Portugal in 1922 but was being hailed as one of the world’s best novelists by the end of the 1990s.
He died in June 2010 and it seems a shame that not all of his books have been translated into English. Saramago published over 30 separate works and sold more than two million books in Portugal alone - an amazing feat considering the country only has 10 million citizens.
Saramago began to make a name for himself after winning the Portuguese PEN Club Award for Baltasar and Bilmunda in 1982. In 1995, he was handed the most important award in Portuguese literature, the Camões Prize, and was given the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.
Although Saramago was a prolific writer, his career began slowly – one of his earliest jobs was working as a car mechanic. His first novel, Terra do Pecado (Land of Sin), was published in 1947 (when he was just 25) however it took a further 19 years for his second book, a collection of poems called Os Poemas Possíveis (The Possible Poems), to be published. His first book to be translated into English was Baltasar and Blimunda in 1987 as demand began to grow.
His novel Blindness (entitled Ensaio sobre a Cegueira on the original Portuguese edition) is his most famous work. It is a novel of immense power that details the fine line between structured civilization and chaos. Blindness focuses on a random collection of characters in an unnamed city thrown together as they succumb to a sudden and unfathomable plague of blindness. Forced into quarantine in a squalid asylum, Saramago details their desperate fight for survival and the ensuing rapid deterioration of systems and society. There is also a sequel, Seeing, featuring some of the same characters.