So Different and So Similar Pairs of Books

Two books can have significant elements in common and still tell different stories. Characters may face similar situations, but their individual choices take the plots in completely different directions. The themes of two novels may be similar, but the action, the characters and the writing style ensure that they are ultimately distinctive and readers are still experiencing a fresh story.

I’ve read (at least) four pairs of books that are both different and similar for various reasons.

 

História do Cerco de Lisboa (The History of the Siege of Lisbon) by José Saramago + The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

These two novels have in common being my least favourites, so far, by José Saramago and Daphne du Maurier, two authors I adore. This is not the reason why I chose them to be part of this post. Both of them are also set in two different time periods, which are connected by a man. The tribulations that the characters face, however, are completely different. Continue reading

José Saramago: The Gifted and Uncompromising Portuguese Nobel

The Portuguese author José Saramago was a man of strong convictions. He didn’t shy away from bluntly expressing his views, often causing controversy. But his work and talent shined brighter than any outcry, ideological difference or political disagreement. He published his first novel, Terra do Pecado, in 1947, and until 1966 it remained his only book. Born on 16 November 1922 in the village of Azinhaga, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998, being the only Portuguese writer to have had that honour so far.

When he wasn’t yet two years old, his parents moved to Lisbon, where he grew up. For economic reasons, he had to do a vocational course at a secondary technical school, and his first job was as a car mechanic. It was in a public library that he continued to learn and to cultivate his love for reading. Later, he also worked as a translator and a journalist. He died on 18 June 2010 on the island of Lanzarote (Spain), and his ashes were laid to rest beneath an olive tree near the river Tagus in Lisbon.

He wrote novels, non-fiction, short stories, poetry and plays. His novels challenge genre boundaries, as they mix elements from magical realism, historical and literary fiction. Many are allegories about the human condition and delve into a variety of social and moral issues through stimulating and funny considerations. His characters and narrators lose themselves in their thoughts. Their asides replicate, in a way, how we communicate orally. Continue reading

‘História do Cerco de Lisboa’ (‘The History of the Siege of Lisbon’) by José Saramago

My rating: 3 stars

História do Cerco de Lisboa, or The History of the Siege of Lisbon in the English translation, was the sixth book that I read by José Saramago. Sadly, it didn’t live up to my expectations. It comprises two intersected strands, one focusing on the life of the main character and the other on the siege of Lisbon in the 12th century. At first the novel is gratifying, and the plot seems to be moving in an interesting direction. However, it doesn’t get to a rewarding destination. The book appears to convey that, in order to change something, first we have to say no and then fight for what we want to say yes to. An interesting message that required an overall more engrossing story.

The main character in this novel is Raimundo Silva, a proofreader who is working on a history book about the siege of Lisbon during the Reconquista, a set of campaigns by the Christians to recapture lands from the Moors. He is older than 50 and unmarried. He avoids correcting some factual mistakes, because the author may consider it insulting. His role is to abide by the grammar and language rules. Nevertheless, during his last read, he feels the urge to add a new word. He tries to resist it but fails to. He puts a ‘no’ where there was none. And the history book now wrongly states that the crusaders didn’t help the Portuguese to take the city of Lisbon.

Afterwards, he is afraid of staying at home in case someone from the publishing company appears to confront him with what he did. So, he strolls around his neighbourhood, Alfama and the area surrounding the castle. Throughout the book there are various charming descriptions of Lisbon, even when the narration is centred on the far less exceptional story of the siege. Continue reading

Book Haul – January 2018

I decided to celebrate the arrival of 2018 by buying more books! And, more importantly, I badly needed three of them for my ‘EU still 28’ reading project. Two of the four books I recently acquired were written by authors I haven’t read before, while the other two are by an author whose work I’m already familiar with and that I tend to really enjoy.

The four newest additions to my shelves are:

 

The Life of Hunger by Amélie Nothomb

The Life of Hunger is the book I chose to read by a Belgian writer for the ‘EU still 28’ project. It’s a fictional memoir about the formative journeys of Nothomb’s youth, during which she suffered from acute anorexia. Continue reading