Resting his hand on a protruding stone, the man raised his trunk and, as if sleepwalking, the horse followed hi effortlessly, with flowing movements which seemed weightless. And the centaur emerged into the night.
'The Lives of Things' is a collection of six short stories originally published as 'Objecto Quase' in 1978. The epigraph by Marx marks, uninhibitedly, themes political and social which the author essentially elaborated upon in his later fiction, especially in 'The Stone Raft', 'The Cave' and the tour de force, 'Blindness'. 'The Chair' opens the book, in the stream of consciousness narration, and obliquely reflects on the political state of affairs under the Salazar regime. The subject of the fall of the chair takes the reader on a trip to imagine, understand and question the conceptual contours of this fall which, in the case, was inevitable. Still, the approach of presenting the manifestation of the rot, the behind-the-scenes work of an essential and yet seemingly inadvertent opposition set up by the too much-ness of one's proclaimed authority, is tongue in cheek to say the least. 'Reflux' and 'Things' basically construct the Oppressor-Oppressed dialectic. Yet, Saramago's expression holds the bite, early fiction as it is:
"All kings are great, by definition and birth: any king who might wish otherwise will wish in vain...".
The surreal premise of 'Things' discloses how everyday objects like doors and stairs are up in rebellion against the authoritarian state and its comfortable and safe 'class' representatives. It is 'things', here, which question the one thing which is at grave and hopeless danger of being overrun by death: the humane in humans; what is it to be human? Do they need to care? 'Embargo', another political allegory, alludes to the fears and apprehensions instilled in human mind through control over resources which depend upon technology to get realized. Fear turns into a device of power, while authority exploits the vicious circle set in and maintained over time; the result being a nightmare situation for the vulnerable human subject. With 'The Centaur', allegory moves away from connotations underlying the first four stories within the socio-political discourse. A parable enthused with philosophical enquiry into the being of man, the tale presents a lone-surviving centaur, banished from the realms of gods and driven out to roam endlessly on Earth. The tale is charged with existential situations, talks about the horse, the man and the centaur; characters with individual selves and also a common self (or neither of the two): "Half a man. A man." The final story, 'Revenge' is more of an image-story, portrayed with not more than a double stroke of a narrative-brush; captivating and disturbing it is nonetheless.
“The journey is never over. Only travellers come to an end.”
Saramago ends this wonderful book on a note which is most most appropriate in the hands of a master storyteller. One really ‘feels priviledged’ in the company of a sensitive writer; sensitive to the place he belongs to, a place which is effortlessly shown to us to be more than just a place.
I had started Journey to Portugal a few months ago and I knew right away that it is just the way with this book. I literally savoured the descriptions of the country in the words of an author whose novels, almost consciously, avoid being set within definitive spaces of geography. The Journey, however, is about Portugal from the eyes of the ‘traveller’.
I must start by saying that the experience had been unlike all others; I’d never read a travelogue from the point of view of a traveller with keen sense of imagination and appreciation of things witnessed by him.
The journey is beautifully given a start by the element of an unconditional prayer, as the traveller sets off to embark his homeland’s untouched, unventured corners.
The second part of the book (two of three) is narrated in a slightly different complexion. The ‘traveller’ is beautifully shown to have associated with the places he visits people he meets. There’s more of human emotion involved in the narration as he moves deep into the Portuguese landscape, especially going through the lowlands and reaching the soft-stone mountains of the Guarda... a thoroughly considerate traveler who is sensitive to the crumbling artifacts and cultural symbols of Portugal. … almost every page of the book captures your imagination by catching you unawares and introduces words of imagination, witness and feeling…
And it takes much longer to read this book for me than any other.. a ten-page session cannot take less than an hour; normally more.
I am wondering why the traveller’s much anticipated visit to Lisbon starts on a somewhat dejected and somber note. Here he is, ready to witness the marvel of this port city, the museums and the monasteries whose architecture takes you on a journey through various ages. But all he could muster is the bitter memories evoked by objects revealing horrendous crimes committed in the past. He is thankful to the museums for preserving some of the objects in order to testify what, according to him, is “necessary” for us to remember.
The traveller is clearly occupied with these thoughts as his indecision gives way to questioning:
“The traveler regains the street and feels lost. Where should he go now? What is he to visit? What shall he leave aside, either on purpose or because of the impossibility of seeing and commenting on everything? And anyway, what does it mean to see everything?”
~ Journey to Portugal
Undauntedly however, the traveller reaches the end of an exhilarating journey. But stops he does not. Ceaseless passion to discover once again, provides impetus to the traveller to begin again what would be nothing short of an experience. And we are all invited.