José Saramago is one of those wonder individuals in the history of literature who serve as a model to any writer-wannabe. Ever since I first read about his life, I was fascinated by his passion for words that was so powerful it gave him the strength to turn from a car mechanic into a winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Saramago only got the recognition he deserved when he was in his 60s and received the Nobel Prize for Literature at 76. When he died from leukemia at 87, his native Portugal was in mourning. He is now regarded as one of the country’s most precious treasures.
Death at Intervals is a short dystopian novel about, you guessed, death. One New Year day in an unnamed country comes with a gift: people stop dying. Death is AWOL and everybody is drunk with happiness in the beginning. But after a few months, the locals discover that the lack of death doesn’t equal eternal life, and problems arise. From issues with life insurance to political and religious implications, it seems that it’s not easy to deal with death in absentia.
“Whether we like it or not, the one justification for the existence of all religions is death, they need death as much as we need bread to eat.”
“If we don’t start dying again, we have no future,” is a phrase the prime minister tells the king at one point. After a couple of months, death makes a return but decides to be a bit more courteous from now on so everyone will start receiving a violet envelope to let them know they have a week to live. To complicate things even more, it looks like death can actually fall in love.
Death at Intervals is a social satire as much as a philosophical exploration of the human relationship with the concept of finality, as well as an inquiry in human frailty. Even though it can’t compare with Saramago’s more powerful works such as Blindness, it’s still a wonderful, slightly humorous skinny novel that offers an insight into the imaginative world of the Portuguese master.