I’m not a big fan of Jose Saramago, and I don’t usually read memoirs / autobiographies / biographies, so imagine my surprise when, after seeing a copy of his memoirs Small Memories, and browsing through it, I was drawn into it, and afterwards really enjoyed it.
I’ll admit that before Small Memories, I have never successfully read a Jose Saramago novel. I’ve tried a couple of times to read his novels, Blindness, and The Double, which were both recommended to me, but his writing style – stream of consciousness / run on sentences and dislike of periods and commas, was not to my liking. In Small Memories, however, because it’s a collection of seemingly random memories from his childhood; his narration sometimes jumping through decades every sentence, his stream of consciousness style was very fitting, and even appropriate.
Small Memories is a short book of Jose Saramago’s cherished memories and recollections from childhood. He tells of Azinhaga, the small town in Portugal where he was born, and how it has changed through the years; his carefree days in Lisbon, remembering the streets he used to frequent, all the houses his family had lived in, and the people he met, whether or not they made a difference in his life. He remembers his family (complete with old photos at the end of the book) – parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins; friends, classmates, teachers, and strangers, each accompanied by a story which is sometimes funny, sometimes mysterious and controversial, but always interesting and sentimental.
In Small Memories, Jose Saramago recalls the first time he might have fallen in love, then quickly, rejected, his first exposure to words and books, and even shares a few early poems he had written, and insights on real life events which inspired his later novels.
I think for me, what made it really interesting was the nostalgic way he described his childhood in Azinhaga and Lisbon; his depictions of Portugal back in the 1920s and 1930s, and how different, how simple, the world, and people were back then.
I bought this book as a gift to a bookish friend who I know is a fan of Jose Saramago (though I don’t know whether or not he already has a copy of it). I had no intention of reading it at all. But, I’m glad I read it, because not only did I discover Jose Saramago’s rich childhood and hypnotic, sometimes dream-like prose, I also felt a renewed interest in his novels. I feel a bit sad about giving the book away, even though I know I can always get another copy. The copy is a bit battered (not by me), but I feel that its condition only adds charm and character to this lovely little book of memories.
Small Memories (2006) – Jose Saramago
Mariner Books; 139 pages (paperback)
Personal rating: 4/5