Starting at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s, in an unidentified country in an undetermined year, in José Saramago’s new novel, “Death. José Saramago prefaces his newly translated novella, Death with Interruptions, with two epigraphs: a prediction and a supposition. “We will know less and less. Ted Gioia reviews Death With Interruptions by Jose Saramago at Great Books Guide.

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This Nobel laureate writes books that read more like fables than novels. If an award were given for run-on sentences, he would intwrruptions it every year.

His preferred narrative voice is marked by a smugness, false humility and aloofness that would infuriate you if you ran into it in real life. Some have compared this writer to Kafka and Borges, and at his finest moments Saramago approaches their artistry.

This is his strong suit.

Death With Interruptions by Jose Saramago

Sometimes his books proceed like experiments undertaken by a crazed social engineer with a hypertrophied sense of the ironic.

Here Saramago looks at what would happen if death truly went on vacation. The concept is not a new one. Fredric March charmed audiences as Death personified in the film Death Takes a Holidayand accounts of mortals who elude the Grim Reaper are pervasive in traditional cultures—for example, some variant of the Orpheus myth has been identified in more than fifty different Native American tribes, and figures in cultures from every part of the globe.


But mose the vast majority of these accounts focus on the micro-level drama, and the specific individuals involved, Saramago prefers to take a macro level view of the proceedings.

And as the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that this hiatus in death is not just an one day anomaly, but is continuing indefinitely—at least in the unnamed country where the story transpires. People continue to age, interruption from poor health, get shot, have accidents; but they all linger on. Meanwhile, across the border, death continues to claim its victims as before.

Saramago’s conceit here—which you have probably already foreseen—is that immortality proves to be far more troublesome daramago the previous state of affairs. In the first half of his book, Saramago is less interested in how specific characters deal with the disappearance of death than, as noted above, with the group dynamics that ensue.

Thoughts on “Death with Interruptions” by Jose Saramago

His major players include the government, the church, the mafia, or maphia, as they are called herethe hospitals and hospices, and various trade associations of undertakers, grave-diggers, etc. At times, the book almost seems like a Harvard Business School case study penned by Michael Porteraddressing the competitive interruptikns of a surprising development in the marketplace.


This is a peculiar type of fiction, but no one does it better than Saramago, who is the supreme chronicler of organizational behavior in crisis situations. Yet in the second half of the novel, Saramago shifts gears entirely. The embargo on death comes to a sudden halt midway through the book, and people start dying again.

Death with Interruptions by José Saramago | Quarterly Conversation

Death investigates the case of this mysterious, and seemingly immortal musician, and saarmago finds herself hopelessly attracted to her intended victim. We are now back in Fredric March territory, and the focus shifts from the macro level of the first half of the book to the specific situation of a small cast of characters.

The end result is a book that never quite coheres. Two stories are stitched together, and the linkages between them are unsatisfying. The most fully developed character detah this novel is the personification of death, who is, at best, a one-dimensional protagonist. Contact Ted Gioia at tedgioia hotmail. This web site and its sister sites may receive promotional copies of review items and other materials from publisher, publicists and other parties.

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