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Death with Interruptions Hardcover – 1 Sep 2008

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harcourt; 1 edition (1 Sept. 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151012741
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151012749
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 14.2 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 712,049 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

José Saramago was born in Portugal in 1922 and has been a full-time writer since 1979. His oeuvre embraces plays, poetry, short stories, non-fiction and novels, which have been translated into more than forty languages and have established him as the most influential Portuguese writer of his generation. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By M. A. Ramos on 27 Nov. 2010
Format: Hardcover
On January 1 in an unspecified year and country, no one dies. Death has decided to go on strike and social catastrophe follows. After some months Death resumes her work, with the proviso that victims receive advance notification by mail. But then she runs across a bachelor cellist that evades Death's letter. It is a dark yet interesting read, a philosophical novel. In Saramago novel death is a woman. This is a quick afternoon read.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 83 reviews
71 of 73 people found the following review helpful
Nobel Prize Winner Hits it Again - Another chilling "What-if" journey... 18 Sept. 2008
By D. Kanigan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Saramago takes us on another haunting and chilling "what-if" journey (similar to Blindness & Seeing). This story is set in an unnamed country in modern Western Europe. On the first day of the New Year, no one dies -for unknown reasons. The populace rejoices over reaching the eternal goal.

"Humanity's greatest dream since the beginning of time, the happy enjoyment of eternal life here on earth, had become a gift within the grasp of everyone, like the sun that rises every day and the air that we breathe."

And then reality strikes - religious leaders lose their grounding ("if there was no death, there could be no resurrection, and if there was no resurrection, then there would be no point in having a church") - funeral homes and life insurance companies have lost their reason for existence ("then, without warning, the tap from which had flowed a constant, generous supply of the terminally dying was turned off") - hospitals and nursing homes start overflowing with the terminally ill - and the dark side of humanity (rearing its ugly head in "its enormous capacity for survival") begins to capitalize on the opportunity by transporting the terminally ill (for a fee) into bordering countries where Death continues to exist on its customary path.

The conclusion is eventually reached after several months that if "we don't start dying again, we have no future."

There are three distinct plot lines in this book. (1) "What-if" Death stops or is 'interrupted' (for 8 months). (2) "What-if" Death restarts (but under new conditions which I won't give away) and (3) "What-if" `death' (who comes 'alive' as a beautiful 36-year old woman executioner) fails to execute on a single victim (a middle aged cellist) on the required "due date."

My assessment:

* This is largely a deep, philosophical and engaging "what-if" rendering of what would happen if Death paused, restarted and "missed." Saramago's imagination, musings and reflections on human behavior are a wonder. There is little individual character development until the third plot line when he tip-toes into the mind of 'death' and the cellist - however, this does not detract from the Saramago's genius with words and his penetrating and profound storytelling.

* For those new to Saramago's unique and trademark writing style, it takes some getting used to. His prose is dense - he uses very little punctuation - he slides from one person speaking or thinking immediately to the next person within the same sentence broken up only with a comma. So your steady focus and attention is a requirement to follow the narrative - or you find that you will lose your way as to who is saying what. Yet, you will find yourself falling into a rhythm - not unlike the back and forth of normal conversation and thinking that we all experience - which places you squarely at the scene or at the center of the story.

* Unlike Blindness which has veins of hope, love, compassion, this story (perhaps not unlike Death itself) is largely a grim, morbid, hopeless, cynical story of humanity - until the conclusion where there is a flicker of light. That is my only rap against the book. Saramago seems to rail on the church and religion, government, politicians, businesses and human nature. There are no heros in this story. This story is laced with the dark side of life and human nature with very few acts of love, kindness, generosity - so it feels lobsided - dark with little hope. Yet, when he does inject the few incidents of "goodness" and hope into his story - it is welcomed like gulps of air after being under water for seconds too long. And, Saramago's story certainly makes you appreciate life (and Death) as we know and experience it today.

* Finally, my measure of a book is if you happen to remember it months or years after reading it. I suspect, like his novel Blindness, the answer will be YES for me for Death with Interruptions. Saramago's work is genius.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Profound, Whimsical & Absurd 16 Sept. 2008
By Mark Wilson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I haven't enjoyed a novel this much for quite some time. Saramago begins with a simple scenario (What if people stopped dying?), then takes it to riotous extremes. This results in a potpourri of profundity, absurdity and laugh-out-loud humor, all presented in a minimalist punctuation style that reads like nothing I've encountered previously. Very highly recommended.

The Nobel committee obviously got this one right.
23 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Death, Be Not Fickle. A Perfect 10! 24 Sept. 2008
By Steve Koss - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
"The following day, no one died." Thus begins Jose Saramago's latest masterpiece, a quirky, whimsical, and utterly enthralling tale called DEATH WITH INTERRUPTIONS. Written in Saramago's characteristic style - dense, run-on sentences filled with multiple digressive asides and dialog unseparated by line breaks or quotation marks - the book stands as an offbeat meditation on death and the manner in which humanity copes (or fails to cope) with it.

DEATH WITH INTERRUPTIONS consists of two loosely linked segments, the latter ultimately looping back to form a perfect circle with the former. In the first half of the book, death is an impersonal presence, noticeable only for its absence within the geographic borders of an unspecified country. Saramago here recalls the premise of the 1934 Frederic March movie, DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY, only this time the holiday lasts far more than three days. As the number of-dying-but-not-dead bodies mounts, the country's various institutions are forced to deal with the implications of a cessation of death. Their reactions give Saramago free satirical reign over the situation as he takes humorous, low-key shots at everything from government, hospitals, and the funeral industry to insurance companies, religious institutions, and the maphia (his spelling).

Death returns in the book's second half, at first in the form of a rather scratchy, hand-written letter announcing its return at a specific date and time. The initial effect is cataclysmic as several months' worth of people accumulated at death's door instantly pass through en masse. Yet even as the natural order of things rights itself, death intervenes and decides (in an apparent fit of boredom) to change the way things are done. The change creates further complications for the living, but the new system nevertheless moves forward smoothly enough. However, an unexpected problem occurs that.forces death to take direct action, leading to the book's bittersweet conclusion.

The first half of Saramago's novel addresses death in the abstract. The numbers are large, the situations impersonal, the focus institutional - all representing in some way the concept of death and humanity's methods of dealing with it. Yet this half is by far the funniest as the author levels his satirical cannon at everyone in sight and comes up with paradoxical lines like one faceless government official's, "...if we don't start dying again, we have no future." In the second half, he switches gears to the level of the personal, developing a heart-rending story around two surprisingly sympathetic individuals. One is a fifty-year-old man, an unmarried cellist living with his pet dog. The other is death, represented as a female entity who ultimately takes on female human form. Saramago's genius is to extract so much from both segments while also tying them together in a touching manner that can only be described as literarily satisfying.

A curious stylistic feature of the book arises from Saramago's choice about referring to his character as death with a small "d" rather than "Death." He opines playfully about multiple entities called death, perhaps one for each country, a different one for plants and animals, and perhaps even a "big D" Death above them all who will someday bring the universe itself to an end. Since his main character is "small d" death, the author abandons capital letters throughout for his proper nouns, whether referring to bach, beethoven, baron munchausen, rome, the pope, proust, dracula, thanatos, or even a.t.m.'s. The only two exceptions - "tower of Babel" and "labyrinth of Knossos" - are certainly more than a little suggestive of Saramago's larger view of life and death.

Saramago's recent work - BLINDNESS, SEEING, and now DEATH WITH INTERRUPTIONS - have each dwelt upon the social and human implications arising from sudden disruptions in the natural order. BLINDNESS enabled him to explore the boundaries of civil human behavior - how fragile is what we call civilization and how close are we, really, to being animals. SEEING broached the political world and government's institutional paranoia toward the behavior of its own citizens. Now, in DEATH WITH INTERRUPTIONS, Saramago addresses the ultimate element in the natural order things, turning it on its side to show us in at our best and at our worst, with all our fears and hopes, our joys and sorrows, our failings and our soaring accomplishments. Once again, he proves himself the most deserving Nobelist for Literature in the last two decades. Simply brilliant - 10 Stars.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
death, be not proud! 1 Nov. 2008
By H. F. Corbin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago's latest novel, in the tradition of three of my favorite writers known for impressive first lines, Albert Camus, Toni Morrison and Herman Melville, begins with the intriguing sentence: "The following day, no one died." This allegory for modern times takes place in an unnamed country, with characters, most of whom have no names and where even death, like the other characters, does not even merit an upper case "D" to begin her name. Yes, she is female, composed only of a skull and bones, although she can transform herself into a reasonably attractive woman, and never of course sleeps. With death's moratorium on death, some results are immediate and obvious. The cardinal of the catholic church is one of the first to be upset. With no death, there is no resurrection. And with no resurrection, there is no church. Funeral homes are faced with an economic melt-down since they can now only offer burials or cremations to dogs, cats, canaries and other animals since animals were not affected by this stay on death. Nursing homes and hospitals are overrun with patients who cannot die and cannot live.

Of course something has to happen to throw a monkey wrench into what appears to be eternal life as indeed it does although this is one of those novels where a review should not be a plot summary. (Actually no review should be just a plot summary.) Just let it be said that Saramago adroitly introduces into his narrative a mediocre cellist-- who has a fascinating encounter with death-- who admits that he is no rostropovich and whose favorite pastime is playing bach's suite number six for unaccompanied cello at night in his apartment. Surely nothing, as the brilliant film director Ingmar Bergman would agree, reminds us more of death than any one of bach's suites for unaccompanied cello. Additionally the author's messenger of death appears as a mailman-- who in this instance does not ring twice-- not a new device although an effective one. Joyce Carol Oates, who if there is any justice should win the Nobel Prize for Literature herself, sends death for Marilyn Monroe in her incomparable novel BLONDE as a messenger riding a bicycle. In this novel death wishes that she had used the death head moth, which has on the back of its thorax a pattern resembling a human skull, as her messenger, a chilling thought.

Mr. Saramago's humor is both subtle and wry. Death chides her partner-in-crime the sythe for being lazy because he often spends all his days leaning against a wall. Since she consists of only bones, death ordinarily would not be able to lick envelopes-- although she has all kinds of powers and can move through walls-- but she takes advantage of self-sealing envelopes for her mail-outs.

Literary critics have said that often winning the nobel prize dries up the creative juices of writers. While that case may be made for some authors, it does not hold true in this instance. DEATH WITH INTERRUPTIONS is a fantastic allegory that criticizes the church, the government and familes who are too selfish to care for sick and dying relatives. It is also a beautiful tribute to the power of love as the ending, which is as powerful as the first sentence, illustrates.

Mr. Saramago indeed writes like no other author.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Strangely Lopsided 21 Jan. 2009
By Nin Chan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is a truly curious novel indeed- the first half of this novel is almost certainly the funniest material Saramago has ever crafted, arousing more guffaws from this reader than even "Seeing" and "The Stone Raft". Saramago is, alongside Coetzee and Ngugi, one of our finest contemporary fabulists, and I would propose that the first half of "Death At Intervals" is a compact and consummate expression of his art, rich in detail, compassion and honesty.

The second half, however, is frankly embarassing, almost unbearably so. Cloying claptrap that recycles a threadbare conceit- deity deigns to pay us wretched mortals a visit, falls helplessly in love with adorable human being, who gives said deity an extensive education in the pleasures of earthly life. Uppity immortal is humbled, assumes incarnate form to fornicate with human beau. Unfortunately, Saramago's take on this is much closer to the godawful "City Of Angels" than Wenders' "Wings Of Desire"- expect generous helpings of pap slathered with dollops of wince-worthy dialogue. Sprinkle liberally with romance novel commonplaces. I wish it were all some elaborate hoax, some ironic joke that Saramago is having at my expense.

The first half of the novel finds Saramago in sparkling form, but unless you are a connoisseur of corn, I suggest that you stop at the point where Saramago begins probing the state of Death's love life.
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