869: Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago

by Gerard

869.42: Saramago, Jose. Death with Interruptions. New York: Harcourt, 2008. 238 pp. ISBN 978-0-15-101274-9.

Dewey Construction:

  • 800: Literature
  • 860: Spanish and Portuguese literatures
  • 869: Portuguese literature
  • +42: Authors starting between 1945 and 1999

Jose Saramago’s Death with Interruptions is a continuation of his magical realism virtuoso. If you’ve read other works by Saramago, then you’re well-equipped for what’s coming. If not, prepare for a wild ride. In this book, he imagines a country in which death stops. But just in that one country. People age and die elsewhere around the world. So what happens to a government and a society when death no longer intervenes?

In this experiment, religious officials hurry to ward off rumors that God has died (or is no longer calling His followers home). The government spins it positively at first saying that a world without death is a world without fear, but soon hits a social and economical barrier. If people keep aging and piling up until just a moment before death, then soon the services needed for an aging population would be tremendous. Also the entire funerary industry would collapse. Then, because no one is dying, no one wants to bring children into this strange world. It soon becomes a mess. A criminal organization is formed to grease the wheels and help transport people who should be dead across the border so that they can go in peace, with which the government is in cahoots.

Not to give too much away, but Saramago imagines death as a character, a depressed woman to be specific. She seems downtrodden over all the “bad press” that she has gotten, and so, has stopped working. When people do start to recognize the importance of death, she begins to correspond with the world of the living, only to find out that as she does so, she becomes more human herself.

The tale is a wild and weird one to be sure. Saramago has a way with his tales of making you believe in it. His deft touch helps to drop the reader’s guard. The style takes a little getting used to, though. There are no conversations in quotes. All the dialogue is embedded in paragraph after long paragraph, with only commas offsetting speakers. Also, he intentionally de-capitalizes cities, entities, and formal groups. Perhaps this is to say that without death, not much in life should be considered important. That said, the story was quirky, sad, and intriguing all at the same time. If you’ve got a free, lazy day, give this one a read. It’s worth it.