Shifting back and forth between childhood and his teenage years, between Azinhaga and Lisbon, this is a mosaic of memories, a simply told, affecting look back into the author’s boyhood: the tragic death of his older brother at the age of four; his mother pawning the family’s blankets every spring and buying them back in time for winter; his beloved grandparents bringing the weaker piglets into their bed on cold nights; and Saramago’s early encounters with literature, from teaching himself to read by deciphering articles in the daily newspaper, to poring over an entertaining dialogue in a Portuguese-French conversation guide, not realizing that he was in fact reading a play by Molière.
Written with Saramago’s characteristic wit and honesty, Small Memories traces the formation of an artist fascinated by words and stories from an early age and who emerged, against all odds, as one of the world’s most respected writers.
Opening: THE VILLAGE IS CALLED Azinhaga and has, so to speak, been where it is since the dawn of nationhood (it had a charter as early as the thirteenth century), but nothing remains of that glorious ancient history except the river that passes right by it (and has done, I imagine, since the world was created) and which, as far as I know, has never changed direction, although it has overflowed its banks on innumerable occasions.
I love that he cared about the homeless lizards.
This was the right book at the right time, a breath of fresh air, beautifully written (natch), of ideal length, and a charismatic slice of rural Portuguese life from a time past.