The year of the death of Ricardo Reis

by Jos Saramago

Paper Book, 1991





San Diego : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991


The world's threats are universal like the sun but Ricardo Reis takes shelter under his own shadow. Back in Lisbon after sixteen years practising medicine in Brazil, Ricardo Reis wanders the rain-sodden streets. He longs for the unattainably aristocratic Marcenda, but it is Lydia, the hotel chamber maid who makes and shares his bed. His old friend, the poet Fernando Pessoa, returns to see him, still wearing the suit he was buried in six weeks earlier. It is 1936, the clouds of Fascism are gathering ominously above them, so they talk; a wonderful, rambling discourse on art, truth, poetry, philosophy, destiny and love.

User reviews

LibraryThing member engpunk77
I loved this one my senior year.
LibraryThing member sb3000
Slow, sad, and often beautiful, this is not Saramago's most immediate or accessible work, but it left an impression on me and I'm frequently tempted to reread it. It also introduced me to the great writer and poet Fernando Pessoa. There's something about this book. I was reservedly positive about it when I finished it, but it's grown in my memory. I now suspect it of being a masterpiece.… (more)
LibraryThing member Miguelnunonave
So much better than the more famous Baltasar & Blimunda... This one is, indeed, worthy of a Nobel price winner. A magical book, extremely well written, with different layers and so many historical / literary / philosophical / political references. Just the fact of bringing to life one of Fernando Pessoa's heteronyms (Ricardo Reis) i.e. one of Pessoa's multiple writing personalities (not merely pen names, like someone put it rather simplistically in a comment above) against the background of a fascist and almost surreal Lisbon and, then, confronting him with the ghost of his creator (Pessoa) - is simply unique, sublime.… (more)
LibraryThing member lascaux
A revelation since it's my first Saramago. Its many voices, the irony, the many layers, the political backdrop, but particularly the seamless writing fascinate me. The punctuation is extraordinarily successful, allowing flow and musicality. I'm adopting it. Have I used it here, I did just now, but the capital for i in English is a nuisance, Why give ego size.… (more)
LibraryThing member LukeS
The story, as near as we can tell, occurs in Portugal, in 1936, at a time when fascism is spreading over Europe. Ricardo Reis (King Richard?) is going to die, or in fact decides he will die. There is a close relationship between the moribund main character and the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. In fact, Pessoa, although already dead at the time of the narrative, is a confidant of the main character, and in some ways is represented by him. I don't know enough of Pessoa or his work to judge the meaning or implications of this.

This is a book in which Saramago abjures some of the niceties of tense, quotation marks, and the usual distinctions between narration of events and philosophical exposition. I believe his intent was to blur these distinctions - his idea is that action is philosophy. He admires the users of Latin who originally said, actions speak louder than words. Actions also have their roots in ideas, and certainly Europe in the 1930s had plenty of idea-rooted action. What is the significance of this character dying in the face of fascism's spreading power? It doesn't seem likely, but is this a book about the death of monarchies? What of the apparent ability to know things of death while still being alive, and knowing about current events when one has died?

This is distinctly a book of politics, philosophy, and ideas. It is frankly, but rather mildly, fantastic; its fantastical elements are gently yoked to the ideas on offer. A very distinctive and thought-provoking book, it is sometimes tough sledding - perhaps a translation issue. I recommend this piece. It seems like a good starting poing for tackling Saramago and Pessoa, and Portuguese literature in general.
… (more)
LibraryThing member llasram
Saramago's novels leave me in awe of how deftly he balances history, literary allusion, politics, philosophy, and an intense understanding of human psychology. Even in translation, there are passages in this book so heart-achingly beautiful and overwhelming that I needed to close my eyes and catch my breath. Saramago creates a flow of ideas and images which fill to the brim whatever space of quiet and solitude I can give over to his words. I know that I don't yet know enough about Fernando Pessoa to fully understand this book, but I look forward to reading it again in a few years and seeing what more it has to tell me.… (more)
LibraryThing member Brasidas
The novel begins in the winter of 1935-36 when Ricardo Reis returns to Lisbon from 16 years in Brazil. He is very much the flaneur in the Flaubertian sense. A doctor, he is not entirely sure why he has returned, at least in the early going. He contents himself with surveying the streets of LIsbon. In 1936 the Spanish Civil War is just getting underway. Stalin is sending advisors in support of the Republicans, Hitler is backing the fascists with serious armament, especially air power, which the opposition does not possess. In Portugal itself the long reign of dictator António de Oliveira Salazar is four years old. Salazar's policies will lead the country into a long period of economic and social stagnation, rampant emigration, that will transform Portugal into one of the poorest countries in Europe with one of the highest rates of illiteracy. The narrator's voice is essayist-omniscient. Unlike the more God-like authorial-omniscient narrator, who is above the fray, calm, often nonjudgemental, the essayist-omniscient is quirky, with personal habits of speech, opinions and sometimes as here a regional mindset. The great Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa has just died. It is not until page 80 or so that we learn that Ricardo Reis is in fact one of the many pseudonyms used by Pessoa during his career. So who is Ricardo Reis? How is it possible for him to meet with Pessoa after his death. The reader doesn't know much about his history, except that he was born on Oporto. Yet he exists in something like the real world. He is just off a grueling Atlantic crossing from Brazil. He takes Room 201 at the Hotel Bragança. He enters into an affair with the chambermaid, Lydia. MORE TO COME. STILL READING.… (more)
LibraryThing member ifjuly
this book is so beautifully written it hurts. it made me promptly go out and read other saramago, but nothing (including blindness) has compared yet (i'm going to read baltasar and blimunda soon...). and the meta pomo on top of pomo backbone with pessoa and multiple character identities inhabiting books and wandering around in them, breathing and really walking around having lives and tributes inside other tributes, is ! pretty much perfect, i say.… (more)
LibraryThing member pjpjx
such an odd book, but my favorite of Saramago
LibraryThing member thorold
Wonderfully leisurely, complex, often rather puzzling debate about the natures of poetry and death and their relationships with political action. A book you have to read with a street map of Lisbon by your side (or even better, sitting on a bench on top of a hill with Lisbon spread out in front of you): the rhythms of the city's peculiar geography are every bit as important to the story as the newspaper headlines of 1936 and Pessoa's poetry.… (more)
LibraryThing member MeisterPfriem
After reading this book S. is definitely among my favorite authors. I will also re-read Pessoa. If you don’t know Pessoa read him first. Some knowledge of Portuguese and European history will come handy: the excellent introduction by Giovanni Pontiero for this edition (Harvill-Harper Collins, London ) provides this. (IV-13)
LibraryThing member V.V.Harding
With the unswerving punctuality of chance, as I start to write something about The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis I hear, on a Thinking Allowed podcast on Thrift Culture, the admonition that one must always distrust nostalgia. Nostalgia is surely the dominant mode of this lovely quiet book, the sense of living in a lesser age, complex intellectuality gone, elegance in decline, yet retribution for political activities in those golden days still a danger.

So The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis is not a hard-headed or hard-hearted book; in it are both the simple, easily available hotel maid along with the remote, wounded aristocratic lady, and a dead author who appears and converses with one of his created voices, one of his heteronyms, who somehow lives on. Magic times, the days Ricardo Reis lived after his creator Fernando Pessoa died. We are in a beautiful complicated literary land here.

In my review of The Cave I observed that that was not the book that won Jose Saramago the Nobel Prize, making him a great national hero cheered in the streets when the news arrived in Lisbon; The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis is.
… (more)
LibraryThing member amerynth
I think I would enjoy Jose Saramago's book so much more if he wasn't so bloody difficult to read. "The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis" could use a lot more paragraphs and a slew of quotation marks.

At any rate, I think Saramago is pretty brilliant and has interesting things to say, though I don't particularly enjoy reading him. I thought Saramago's Baltasar and Blimunda had more of a payoff for the work than this book.

If you're going to read this, do yourself a favor and read up on Fernando Pessoa.... if this weren't a group read where someone pointed me to the Wikipedia entry on Pessoa I would have been completely lost.
… (more)
LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
Saramago's writing is ever beautiful, his stories complex and careful. True to form, The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis is a quiet book with layers upon layers of wonder, meaning, and humanity--Ricardo Reis is a poet/doctor whose distinctive voice and character are both quiet and demanding, drawing in readers and pulling them forward through what unfolds to be a graceful and entrancing story. Stylistically and in terms of story, this is far from being Saramago's most accessible work, but it is worth every moment of reading for those readers who'll venture into it and become lost in its world.

… (more)
LibraryThing member tronella
Eh. The concept was better than the execution. Sorry, but I don't care about Ricardo's bad relationships and moping.
LibraryThing member RoxieT
Always a big fan of Jose Saramago’s works. His writing style may be frustrating for the more prescriptive followers of grammar, but the context of Saramago’s writing can be deep and superficial at the same time. You know there’s more, but you really have to think about it.
LibraryThing member blake.rosser
I read this book knowing nothing about Fernando Passoa, or his pseudonym Ricardo Reis. If I had known about these things, I surely would have enjoyed the book significantly more. This review will be most helpful for people like me: fans of good literature that know little or nothing about Portuguese history/literature.

A poet-doctor returns from Brazil to his native Portugal after 16 years away and doesn't do much except start an affair with a chambermaid and visit socially with a recently deceased. Then he decides to die. If that sounds interesting to you, then you might like this book.

I suppose it's fitting that a book whose theme -- among others -- is the absurdity and pointlessness of existence should itself be thoroughly pointless. But that doesn't make it enjoyable. After an excruciating first 70 pages in which Ricardo does nothing but wander through the rainy city over a few days, the book begins to offer promise when he meets with the dead personage of his poet alter ego. But nothing comes of it.

The entire thing feels terribly bloated. Saramago offers up some terrific observations and beautiful passages, but his conversational narrative style is distracting and annoying at times, and his main character offers nothing sympathetic to grasp onto. Almost half the book is taken up by pointless tangents and cutesy side comments, which I would normally criticize for distracting from the plot. This particular novel, however, doesn't seem to have much of a plot. The side comments are best exemplified by this one, which takes place after Saramago narrates the specific details of a maid's lamp-lighting ritual:Whether such details are indispensable or not for a clear understanding of this narrative is something each of us must judge for himself, and the judgment will vary according to our attention, mood, and temperament. p.105

The entire book is filled with such comments. While the last thought has some merit, I generally rely on an author to make the judgment of which details are and are not dispensable to his own narrative. Maybe I am too lazy or old-fashioned of a reader to fully appreciate this book, but then here Saramago appears to be writing lazily as well. Definitely not a good book with which to start your Saramago education. For beginners I would recommend more the only other of his I have read, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, not as challenging as this one and much more rewarding.
… (more)


Original language

Page: 0.2826 seconds