Nobel-winning novelist Saramago dead at 87

18th June 2010, Comments 0 comments

Nobel literature prize winner Jose Saramago, who left his native Portugal after arguing with his country's government, has died at the age of 87, his Spanish publisher said Friday.

Saramago died on the Canary island of Lanzarote where he lived, the publisher said. The outspoken author, whose novels include "Blindness" and "The Cave", had spent several periods in hospital recently, for what Spanish media said were respiratory problems.

Saramago left Portugal in the early 1990s after the conservative government in power refused to allow his controversial novel "The Gospel According to Jesus Christ" to compete for a European literary prize.

He lived on Lanzarote with his wife Pilar del Rio, a Spanish journalist.

Born to a peasant family in the central village of Azinhaga, he left school at the age of 12 and trained as a locksmith.

Saramago published his first novel in 1947, but his next work, a collection of poems, did not appear until 19 years later.

A member of the Communist Party, which was banned at the time, he took part in the revolution that ousted the Portuguese dictatorship in 1974 and published a second novel in 1977.

An atheist and self-described pessimist, his literary career only took off with the publication in 1982, when he was 60, of "Baltasar and Blimunda", a historical love story set in 17th-century Portugal.

"The Gospel According to Jesus Christ" caused a scandal in Portugal, depicting Jesus losing his virginity to Mary Magdalen and being used by God for world domination.

Saramago's novels, which have sold millions of copies in more than 30 languages, often deal with fantastic scenarios.

His 1995 novel "Blindness" depicts the breakdown of society after nearly everyone in another unnamed country goes blind. It was made into a movie in 2008 starring Julianne Moore. In his 1986 book "The Stone Raft" Spain and Portugal break off from the rest of Europe and drift into the Atlantic.

"Essay on Lucidity", released in 2004, explored a right-wing government's violent reaction to an election in which more than 80 percent of votes cast are blank.

"The Intermittency of Death", published in 2005, explores the chaos generated in an unnamed country where people suddenly stop dying.

In "Cain", published last year, the author absolves the Biblical figure for the murder of his younger brother Abel and puts the blame instead on God.

Saramago launched a blog in 2008 then gave it up a year later to concentrate on a new book.

As well as novels he wrote poetry, essays and plays.

© 2010 AFP

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