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‘Lost’ novel by dead Nobel laureate published

Published on 01/03/2012

A "lost" novel by Portuguese Nobel literature laureate Jose Saramago which he wrote in the 1950s before he achieved international acclaim has been published nearly two years after his death.

Saramago sent the manuscript for “Claraboya”, which tells the tale of residents of a Lisbon apartment building, through a friend to a Portuguese publishing house in 1953 but never heard back from them.

But in 1989, after the author had become one of Portugal’s best-selling contemporary writers, the publishing house contacted Saramago to say they had found the manuscript during a move and would be honoured to publish it.

Saramago, who was known for his blunt manner and difficult prose style, declined the offer, recovered the manuscript and said he did not want it to be published while he was still alive.

“He called it the book that was lost and found in time,” Saramago’s widow, Spanish journalist Pilar del Rio, said during the presentation in Madrid of the novel, which hit bookstores in Spain and Latin America this week.

“He told us he did not want it published during his lifetime but that those who were left behind after he died could do what they thought best with it. We all knew, I think Saramago as well, that it would be best to publish it.”

Del Rio displayed some notebooks full of notes made by Saramago, who died in June 2010 on the Spanish Canary island of Lanzarote aged 87, while he wrote the novel, as well as the original manuscript he sent to the publishing house.

The author did not write another novel for nearly two decades after he failed to get a response from the publishing house over “Claraboya” and focused instead on his career as a journalist.

“Saramago suffered a great deal because of this snub. He felt that if someone hands you the fruits of their labour, the least you can do is reply,” said del Rio.

She said “Claraboya” is a “transgressive novel” which the publishing house did not dare publish in Portugal during the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, which ruled the country until 1974.

“It was a difficult novel for the era. It is a book where the family which is the pillar of society is a bit of a nest of vipers. There is rape, lesbian love, abuse. Could Portuguese society handle this in the 1950s? I don’t think so,” said del Rio.

“My guess is that the publishing house was holding on to it until better times, but at the time nobody thought that Salazar’s regime would last so long.”

“Claraboya” was published in Portugal and Brazil in Portuguese late last year. It is being translated into other languages, including English and Italian.

Saramago’s first novel, published in 1947, was the commercially unsuccessful “Country of Sin”, a tale of peasants in crisis.

International critical acclaim came late in his life, starting with his 1982 historical fantasy “Baltasar and Blimunda”, which is set during the Inquisition, the Roman Catholic Church’s fight against heretics, and explores the battle between individuals and organized religion.

The author moved to the Canary Islands after a public spat in 1992 with the Portuguese government over its refusal to allow his controversial novel “The Gospel According to Jesus Christ” to compete for a European literary prize.

In 1998 he became the first Portuguese-language writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.