The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, Paperback

The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis Paperback

3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


The world's threats are universal like the sun but Ricardo Reis takes shelter under his own shadow.

Back in Lisbon after sixteen years practicing 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.




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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.

Review by

DISCLAIMER<br/>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.<br/><br/>SPOILERS<br/>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. <br/><br/>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. <br/><br/>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:<blockquote>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</blockquote><br/>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, <u>The Gospel According to Jesus Christ</u>, not as challenging as this one and much more rewarding.

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