I’ve always thought of Jose Saramago as a prolific, accomplished and successful literary writer, someone elevated, and not even enviable because he deserved it all. So I was astonished and heartened to discover that Saramago is a late bloomer. Sure, his first book came out when he was young but then there was a 20 year gap until the next.
Furthermore, Saramago’s first few novels were unremarkable and unremarked. He didn’t arrive at the style he’s known for until his late 50’s, nor did he achieve recognition until 1982 when he was 60. Saramago didn’t have a privileged childhood, either. His family were landless peasants who moved to the city and could only afford a limited education for their surviving son (his brother died at the age of 4), a technical school where he trained as a mechanic.
And yet, with all that, he came into his own, first as a journalist, later as a playwright and novelist. “Saramago” isn’t a pseudonym or the surname of either of his parents, but a family nickname accidentally registered at his birth. Saramago is an herbaceous plant, in English called wild radish. A radish isn’t like a peach or a plum, it’s not usually considered pretty and not for every taste, but it’s brilliance underground: crimson on the outside, white inside, sharp, sometimes sweet.