Death with Interruptions

Death with Interruptions

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Nobel Prize-winner Jose Saramago's brilliant new novel poses the question -- what happens when the grim reaper decides there will be no more death?

On the first day of the new year, no one dies. This of course causes consternation among politicians, religious leaders, morticians, and doctors. Among the general public, on the other hand, there is initially celebration—flags are hung out on balconies, people dance in the streets. They have achieved the great goal of humanity: eternal life. Then reality hits home—families are left to care for the permanently dying, life-insurance policies become meaningless, and funeral parlors are reduced to arranging burials for pet dogs, cats, hamsters, and parrots.

Death sits in her chilly apartment, where she lives alone with scythe and filing cabinets, and contemplates her experiment: What if no one ever died again? What if she, death with a small d, became human and were to fall in love?

Available Resources

  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547391601

  • ISBN-10: 0547391609

  • Pages: 256

  • Price: $10.99

  • Publication Date: 09/02/2009

José Saramago

José Saramago

JOSÉ SARAMAGO (1922–2010) was the author of many novels, among them Blindness, All the Names, Baltasar and Blimunda, and The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. In 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
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Margaret Jull Costa

MARGARET JULL COSTA has established herself as the premier translator of Portuguese literature into English today.
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  • reviews


    "Saramago is arguably the greatest writer of our time . . . He has the power to throw a dazzling flash of lightning on his subjects, an eerily and impossibly prolonged moment of clarity that illuminates details beyond the power of sunshine to reveal."—Chicago Tribune


    "Reading the Portuguese writer José Saramago, one quickly senses the presence of a master."—The Christian Science Monitor

  • excerpts

    The following day, no one died. this fact, being

    absolutely contrary to life’s rules, provoked enormous and, in

    the circumstances, perfectly justifiable anxiety in people’s minds,

    for we have only to consider that in the entire forty volumes of

    universal history there is no mention, not even one exemplary

    case, of such a phenomenon ever having occurred, for a whole

    day to go by, with its generous allowance of twenty- four hours,

    diurnal and nocturnal, matutinal and vespertine, without one

    death from an illness, a fatal fall, or a successful suicide, not one,

    not a single one. Not even from a car accident, so frequent on

    festive occasions, when blithe irresponsibility and an excess of

    alcohol jockey for position on the roads to decide who will reach

    death first. New year’s eve had failed to leave behind it the usual

    calamitous trail of fatalities, as if old atropos with her great

    bared teeth had decided to put aside her shears for a day. There

    was, however, no shortage of blood. Bewildered, confused, distraught,

    struggling to control their feelings of nausea, the firemen

    extracted from the mangled remains wretched human

    bodies that, according to the mathematical logic of the collisions,

    should have been well and truly dead, but which, despite

    the seriousness of the injuries and lesions suffered, remained

    alive and were carried off to hospital, accompanied by the shrill

    sound of the ambulance sirens. None of these people would die

    along the way and all would disprove the most pessimistic of

    medical prognoses, There’s nothing to be done for the poor

    man, it’s not even worth operating, a complete waste of time,

    said the surgeon to the nurse as she was adjusting his mask. And

    the day before, there would probably have been no salvation for

    this particular patient, but one thing was clear, today, the victim

    refused to die. And what was happening here was happening

    throughout the country. Up until the very dot of midnight

    on the last day of the year there were people who died in full

    compliance with the rules, both those relating to the nub of

    the matter, i.e. the termination of life, and those relating to the

    many ways in which the aforementioned nub, with varying degrees

    of pomp and solemnity, chooses to mark the fatal moment.

    One particularly interesting case, interesting because of

    the person involved, was that of the very ancient and venerable

    queen mother. At one minute to midnight on the thirty- first of

    december, no one would have been so ingenuous as to bet a

    spent match on the life of the royal lady. With all hope lost, with

    the doctors helpless in the face of the implacable medical evidence,

    the royal family, hierarchically arranged around the bed,

    waited with resignation for the matriarch’s last breath, perhaps

    a few words, a final edifying comment regarding the moral ed-

    ucation of the beloved princes, her grandsons, perhaps a beautiful,

    well- turned phrase addressed to the ever ungrateful memory

    of future subjects. And then, as if time had stopped, nothing

    happened. The queen mother neither improved nor deteriorated,

    she remained there in suspension, her frail body hovering

    on the very edge of life, threatening at any moment to tip

    over onto the other side, yet bound to this side by a tenuous

    thread to which, out of some strange caprice, death, because it

    could only have been death, continued to keep hold. We had

    passed over to the next day, and on that day, as we said at the

    beginning of this tale, no one would die.

         It was already late afternoon when the rumor began to

    spread that, since the beginning of the new year, or more precisely

    since zero hour on this first day of january, there was no

    record in the whole country of anyone dying. You might think,

    for example, that the rumor had its origins in the queen mother’s

    surprising resistance to giving up the little life that was left to

    her, but the truth is that the usual medical bulletin issued to the

    media by the palace’s press office not only stated that the general

    state of the royal patient had shown visible signs of improvement

    during the night, it even suggested, indeed implied,

    choosing its words very carefully, that there was a chance that

    her royal highness might be restored to full health. In its initial

    form, the rumor might also have sprung, naturally enough,

    from an undertaker’s, No one seems to want to die on this first

    day of the new year, or from a hospital, That fellow in bed

    twenty- seven can’t seem to make up his mind one way or the

    other, or from a spokesman for the traffic police, It’s really odd,

    you know, despite all the accidents on the road, there hasn’t been

    a single death we can hold up as a warning to others. The rumor,

    whose original source was never discovered, although, of course,

    this hardly mattered in the light of what came afterward, soon

    reached the newspapers, the radio and the television, and immediately

    caused the ears of directors, assistant directors and

    editors- in- chief to prick up, for these are people not only

    primed to sniff out from afar the major events of world history,

    they’re also trained in the ability, when it suits, to make those

    events seem even more major than they really are. In a matter

    of minutes, dozens of investigative journalists were out on the

    street asking questions of any joe schmo who happened by, while

    the ranks of telephones in the throbbing editorial offices stirred

    and trembled in an identical investigatory frenzy. Calls were

    made to hospitals, to the red cross, to the morgue, to funeral directors,

    to the police, yes, all of them, with the understandable

    exception of the secret branch, but the replies given could be

    summed up in the same laconic words, There have been no

    deaths. A young female television reporter had more luck when

    she interviewed a passer- by, who kept glancing alternately at her

    and at the camera, and who described his personal experience,

    which was identical to what had happened to the queen mother,

    The church clock was striking midnight, he said, when, just before

    the last stroke, my grandfather, who seemed on the very

    point of expiring, suddenly opened his eyes as if he’d changed

    his mind about the step he was about to take, and didn’t die.

    The reporter was so excited by what she’d heard that, ignoring

    all his pleas and protests, No, senhora, I can’t, I have to go to the

    chemist’s, my grandfather’s waiting for his prescription, she

    bundled him into the news car, Come with me, your grandfather

    doesn’t need prescriptions any more, she yelled, and ordered the

    driver to go straight to the television studio, where, at that precise

    moment, everything was being set up for a debate between

    three experts on paranormal phenomena, namely, two highly

    regarded wizards and a celebrated clairvoyant, hastily summoned

    to analyze and give their views on what certain wags, the

    kind who have no respect for anything, were already beginning

    to refer to as a death strike. The bold reporter was, however, laboring

    under the gravest of illusions, for she had interpreted the

    words of her interviewee as meaning that the dying man had,

    quite literally, changed his mind about the step he was about to

    take, namely, to die, cash in his chips, kick the bucket, and so

    had decided to turn back. Now, the words that the happy grandson

    had pronounced, As if he’d changed his mind, were radically

    different from a blunt, He changed his mind. An elementary

    knowledge of syntax and a greater familiarity with the elasti...

Available Resources

  • Format: eBook

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547391601

  • ISBN-10: 0547391609

  • Pages: 256

  • Price: $10.99

  • Publication Date: 09/02/2009

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