The Hands That Built Portugal - Part II
José Saramago - Nobel Prize Laureate

Literature from Portugal can be considered a hidden treasure in the world literature that we should definitely try to discover. One of the most famous Portuguese writers is without doubt Brazilian novelist Paulo Coelho. But probably not all Europeans were familiar before with the name of José Saramago who was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1998.

Blindness (Ensaio Sobre a Cegueira) is one of Saramago’s most popular books, where the author raises the issues of the human condition and human values. In Portugal, in fact, he can be seen as a test for many people. If you will talk to a Portuguese person, ask him or her what he or she thinks of Saramago and they will either love him or hate him as there can’t be an indifferent answer or something in between two mentioned below. But putting that aside and analyzing his works, Saramago had this powerful way of writing, focusing on allegorical themes, tackling the human condition and human factors. In his novel Blindness Samarago demonstrated a world where we could no longer thrust our senses, a world of perpetual blindness.  As other Portuguese writers, artists and musicians, he expressed what the hole an entire generation felt in the 20th century. The history of brave Portuguese who sailed the blue Ocean blue changed to a different reality. A country of Explorers and Navigators became a country with powerful elites and absolute monarchs, where democracy would seem nothing more than something written on a piece of paper. Saramago as a critical and important voice was one of the writers and artists who flourished in this time of need.

Before the worldwide famous Saramago with his works as international bestsellers included also in the renowned The New York Times Book Review, Portugal was also blessed with other talented poets and writers. Fernando Pessoa is one of the greatest poets of of the20th Century in Portugal. It would be pretty impossible to explain his overall work and his multiple characters. Although he was not a politician or a powerful navigator, Pessoa was behind the Portuguese modernist movement and marked Portugal as a country of poets alongside with Camões. In his book “A Mensagem” Pessoa explains the history of Portugal and its powerful figures in magnificently well written poems. His work reflects deep feelings and experiences, and there is a clear connection to the art movement of the time, but the idea of going back to the golden years of Portugal sovereignty is still there. Here’s a distinguished example of his work:

“Mad, yes, mad, because I wanted greatness
Such as Fate does not grant.
I could not live up to my certainties;
Thus, where the sandy expanse is,
I left who I was, not who I am.

My madness let others take it up
Along with all that went with it.
Without madness what is man
But a healthy beast,
Postponed corpse that begets?”

Besides famous persons in the Portuguese literature, it would be also relevant to mention Almada Negreiros, a multitalented artist of the Portuguese modernist movement from early to mid-20th century. He was at the same time involved in literature, tapestry, engraving, murals, mosaic, stained glass and ballet choreographies. Almada Negreiros was one if not the most important figures in the Portuguese modernist art movement. Unlike most of the first wave of modernists in the country as Santa-Rita or Souza-Cardoso who both died in 1918, Almada was the person for other generations of artists to follow. The most incredible thing about him is that he never actually attended any sort of art schools or universities, he was basically an autodidact. He could influence other artists and minds in a time where everything was lost in his country; all that was left now was art and literature.

As a conclusion to the series of articles about Portugal history and culture we should emphasize, how essential is it for Europeans to discover new boarders of our common heritage and be open for new books and different historical skylines.