30 July 2010

Book Review: The Notebook by José Saramago

This is another one of those times in which I decided to branch out of fiction and try reading non-fiction for a while. And due to the fact that Saramago is one of my favorite authors, I would perhaps more than gladly read anything that comes out with his name on it. I think I have enough data points to base my decision that if it is written by him, then it must be good.

So apparently, from September 2008 to August 2009, Saramago's wife Pilar del Rio told him to write a blog. So he went online and wrote a few lines a day, just like any other person writing a blog. And this book was a compilation of what he wrote.

And boy, it's a blog that has force. Force in epic proportions. I liked this book because it provided me with a window that looks inside one of the world's most beautiful minds. Saramago's way of thinking and reasoning looks so flawless, it felt like art.

There are several themes that come up every now and then in his blog. He is a dissident, and with that, he is very outspoken with respect to his views on world affairs. Major themes that he is addressing consistently in the book are the following: George Bush and his lying; Silvio Berlusconi and his bad governance; Israel and its maltreatment of Gaza; authors and friends who have died; and factoids that surround the release of his new book.

Saramago is very open with respect to his criticism of George Bush. In fact, early on, he called Bush a liar emeritus, a high priest to all the liars that surround him, and he calls Bush a badly programmed robot who constantly switches and confuses the messages it carries around inside it. Ouch. He expressed hope that the United States foreign policy would change as the Obama administration takes over, and blames Bush for the detrimental effect his presidency has on the lives of the American civilians living today.

Another politician that Saramago criticizes a lot here is Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, and how he is a character that seems to stem from the mafiosi, ruling Italy with an iron fist. I don't know much about Italian politics to evaluate this, but I can say that Saramago's words were rather strong.

Israel and Gaza is another topic. Saramago has this disdain for the Israeli psyche, and he remarked that it is rather ironic that it used to be the case that David was this small character, who with the aid of a rather nifty sling, was able to take down the larger enemy, Goliath. However, Saramago remarks that Israel's actions regarding Gaza and its human rights violations there makes it look like Israel is the Goliath this time, bullying Gaza to its whim.

Ah, another important topic in Saramago's blog is religion and his belief that this is the root of all problems. He attacks both Christians and Muslims alike, and even suggests that there should be a third god to mediate between these two parties. He mentions that these two parties are guilty of assuming that they are the only correct view, and with that, thinks that they have the right to kill the other party. Saramago is a hard-core atheist, and it reflects on what he writes. He talks about the men of science that died for their work, people who were tried or even killed by the church, just because they believed in something that was contradictory to the Bible. People like Galileo Galilei, Giordano Bruno, and Charles Darwin. He finds it bizarre that only now do churches take the initiative to apologize to these people, as they have persecuted them in the past.

So for a change, it was nice reading this book. Like I said earlier, it provided me a window to see how Saramago's brain functions, and reading his blog allowed me access to whatever it was that was brewing in his head, without the artistic flourish that a novel usually is crafted with. This is pure Saramago, if not in the flesh, but in pure unadulterated thought.

Needless to say, this one gets a full 5 stars.

See my other book reviews here.



(Old Arch, from my Qorikancha Series)

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