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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (May 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0547640226
  • ISBN-13: 978-0547640228
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.6 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 629,559 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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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 20 April 2001
Format: Paperback
Manual of Painting and Calligraphy is one of Saramago's earlier writings (I think it is his second Novel). The narrator is a second-grade portrait painter, who questions issues of genuineness, creativity, authenticity and the difference between genius and mediocrity. The context is the last years of the tyrannical regime of Salazar and, like in most of his books, there is also a sensitively written love story. Manual of painting and calligraphy is a good read, it has some sparkles of the later Saramago, and fans of Saramago would definitely enjoy this book. However although relevant and sharp, accurate and well written, this book is nowhere near as exciting as Saramago's later books. Nevertheless, reading Manual of Painting and Calligraphy is like watching a pretty flower after you know it will grow to be the most beautiful thing you have every seen. And, of course, Giovanni Pontiero's translation is intact.
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By Ajo VINE VOICE on 13 Dec 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I just finished reading this book and thus completed all of the books by Saramago. It was his first novel and I expected it to be inferior to his later work. However it was not - it a beautiful and strong book that makes you think and fills you with emotions. A definite must for all lovers of good literature.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 14 reviews
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
An essay about the blindness of realistic representation 15 May 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
A story about a painter of portraits or a portrait of the Author in search of his own image, Manual of Painting and Calligraphy is a strategic book for anyone interested in learning more about history of art in general and about the author's criative process in particular, while enjoying a pleasant narrative.

Trying to avoid the conventional act of mirroring, José Saramago - who is responsible, among others, for the overcome of literary neorealism in Portugal - criates, as the title reveals, not only a novel nor a diary, but a treatise about the blindness of realistic representation.

Writing through the eyes of a painter who paints through the hands of a writer, Saramago explores the boundaries between the so-called sister arts, talking about the urge of imagination in nowadays world, and building up for himself and for his readers an interesting and instigating portrait of the artist as the author of the invisible.

Ermelinda Ferreira (eferreira@openlink.com.br
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Portraiture and [Auto]biography 23 Mar 2012
By Roger Brunyate - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In my former life as an art historian, I have been both fascinated and baffled by portraiture, that art form in which the artist cannot just paint what he sees, but must enter into some devil's bargain with the paying client. So it is with the narrator of Saramago's first novel, a self-confessedly mediocre but nonetheless successful society portraitist known only as H, who is commissioned to paint an arrogant individual he refers to as S. No, this is not the dictator Salazar, who in 1973 still held Portugal in the iron grip of his secret police, but a corporate tycoon who is clearly a creature of the right-wing regime. H tries to solve his dilemma by painting two portraits simultaneously: the official one for the client and a second private one that will capture his true feelings. Feeling both to be failures, he tries yet a third approach, using words to capture S in all his suave monstrosity. Hence the title, MANUAL OF PAINTING AND CALLIGRAPHY.

Philosophically, it is an intriguing premise. Unfortunately, it makes a very slow start for a novel. H turns every proposition over and over, parsing his own syntax, torturing his prose: "And would that difference not be precisely what separates genius (Rembrandt) from mediocrity (me)? (Between parentheses: I put Rembrandt and me between parentheses to avoid writing "genius from mediocrity," an absurdity which not even a writer as inexperienced as myself would let slip.)" It is always clever, but often tiresome. But then, about a third of the way into the book, H puts away both portraits and devotes himself to writing. He does this by means of five chapters describing a trip to Italy, a country he calls "our reward for coming into this world." He is a cicerone worthy of Ruskin or Sebald, with an unerring eye for the extraordinary object that speaks so clearly to our own time. In Ferrara, for instance, he singles out a quattrocento LAMENTATION by Niccolò dell'Arca: "Those women, who throw themselves over the outstretched body, wail with a most human sorrow over a corpse which is not that of God: here no one awaits the resurrection of the flesh."

And for the first time, he truly comes alive as a person. All portraiture, he begins to discover, is self-portraiture; all biography, all writing even, is autobiography. We see him as far more than the mediocre artist that he claims to be, more than the indifferent lover, more than the passive observer of his country's colonial atrocities. The Ferrara chapter ends so brilliantly that it is worth quoting almost in full:

"I am now repeating this so that everything may be corroborated by the missing witness: me. Me, Portuguese, painter, alive in the year 1973, in this summer which is almost at an end, in this encroaching autumn. Me, alive, while men are dying in Africa, Portuguese men whom I sent to their deaths or consented should die, men so much younger than me, so much simpler, and with so much more to offer than me, a mere painter. [...] In 1485, Niccolò dell'Arca had already understood so much: from his LAMENTATION OF CHRIST, which only appears to mourn the death of a god, one can remove Christ and replace him with other corpses: the white corpse blown up by a land mine with the entire lower part of the abdomen torn out (farewell, son never to be), the black corpse burned with napalm, the ears cut off and preserved somewhere in a jar of alcohol (farewell Angola, farewell Guinea, farewell Mozambique, farewell Africa). There is little point in removing the women: weeping is always the same."

Towards the end of the book, something happens, something political, something real. In response, H puts down his pen and takes action. It is not much, but it is enough. He is alive. He begins painting once more. He finds love in a chapter where words and art combine in a mood that is no longer analytical but lyrical and true. And in 1974, Salazar, the S behind that other S, would be deposed. Saramago would go on writing masterpiece after masterpiece; you can already see them in this beginning, but the birth pangs are difficult.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
"I cannot promise you the clear sky and drifting clouds of Magritte" 27 Oct 2012
By H. F. Corbin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Jose Saramago was 55 when he wrote this his first novel. When I finished it-- and I was so glad in the end that I did-- I thought how fortunate lovers of great literature are that he persevered-- at one time in his early life he worked as an auto mechanic-- giving Portugal and the rest of the world such masterpieces as BLINDNESS, one of my favorite novels. Saramago's prose is dense with long paragraphs and quotations from different speakers all in the same paragraph, and sometimes he becomes more a philosopher than a storyteller-- I'm thinking now of a long quotation from Karl Marx-- but this novel ultimately soars with a beautiful ending that will make you sing.

The narrator identifies himself simply as H. When the novel begins, he is a fifty-year-old painter-- in spite of the fact that whoever wrote the blurb for the book describes him as a "struggling young artist"-- of flattering portraits of the Portuguese bourgeoisie. He says he guarantees durability, not art, he substitutes "minute detail for talent", and describes himself as "the greatest failure alive." He is having a sexual affair with Adelina, eighteen years younger than he, but who "has a good body, an exquisite belly inside and out, a wonderful fornicating machine" and he also manages to bed -- at least a couple of times-- Olga the secretary," whom he always describes in that way. Mr. Saramgo does not shy away from graphic descriptions of the sex act. I would be interested to know what the critics of John Irving's recent novel for its explicit sex would say about this one. During the course of this novel, H is transformed in ways that only great writers can achieve.

The narrator, like the author is vehemently anti-fascist -- one of the narrative threads of this novel is about the arrest of his friend by the fascist government--and an atheist: "However there is no God." And he came from a childhood of poverty. In a dream he sees a woman carrying a chamber pot "covered with an embroidered cloth, while angels hover overhead. Hallelujah." H journeys to the great museums and galleries in Italy and contrasts the great masterpieces he sees with what he has produced for the past 20 years.(I wished, by the way, when I was reading this novel, that I could see photographs of all the the art he describes.) As Giovanni Pontiero points out in his excellent " Translator's Forward," Saramago emphasizes "the importance of harmonizing aesthetics with ethics, ideals with social and political realities. " as he ultimately does in this novel.

This novel for all its density and difficulty is loaded with both statements about the universe and sentences that rise to poetry. Anyone who paints portraits paints himself. (Richard Avedon said something similar about portrait photographers.) Visiting museums changes us. On a visit to Florence he muses that statues and paintings "last longer than this frail flesh." The middle-aged are one step away from what they do not want. Only the poor die from lack of medical attention.

Saramago believed that love and not religion is our salvation. This novel, so worth your time reading, ultimately stands for that proposition. Is there a more beautiful statement on the subject when H promises his love: "I cannot promise you clear sky and drifting clouds of Magritte"? Finally this literary genius in translation on art, etc.: "Every work of art, even if as modest as this one of mine, must provide verification. If we want to look for something we must lift up the lid (stone or cloud, but let us call it the lid) which is concealing it. And I am convinced we shall have little value as artists (and needless to say as men, people and individuals) if after finding, through good fortune or our own efforts, what we were looking for, we do not go on lifting the rest of the lids, clearing away stones and pushing the clouds back, each and every one of them."

Saramago remains one of my favorite writers.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Saramago's Bildungsroman at 54 Years of Age 22 Oct 2012
By G. T. Bysshe - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Being an art graduate, I too was charmed by the title of this book and its first lines: "I SHALL GO ON painting the second picture but I know it will never be finished."

I wanted Derrida's Truth in Painting [The Truth in Painting ]. I wanted an encounter with a muse from Balzac's great short story "Le Chef d'Oeuvre Inconnu (The Hidden Masterpiece). I wanted nothing less than the character's complete emancipation through probing investigation and dedicated formal gestalt!

But once having read these lines which hold out so much, readers should curb their enthusiasm and carefully consider the epigram.

It is by Paul Vaillant-Couturier, who was the editor and chief of the newspaper L'HUMANITE, 1926-29, and again 1933-37, the paper linked to the French Communist Party, also contributed to by Louis Aragon, Picasso's sometime political comrade. The epigram is only published after WWII is over, perhaps from a title called "Vers les lendemains qui chantent" (towards days gone by which sing) (possum publ: Editions Sociales 1962). It says:

"On revient de loin
La formation bourgeoise, l'orgueil intellectual,
La nécessite de se reviser a toute moment, les liens qui subsistent.
La sentimentalté
L'empoisonnment de la culture orientée."

(one returns home from far away,
the bourgeoisie establishment, the intellectual arrogance, "amour-propre"
the need to revise every moment the links that remain,
the sentimentality-
the poisoning [effect] of Western Culture...)

If a novel is a prose narrative, Manual of Painting and Calligraphy is less of a novel for being less of a narrative. On the other hand, it is more over-all than a "novel" is suposed to be- being rich in original thought, truly original and outstanding writing, even in translation.

But since its first appearance in 1976, and in its belated first English translation in 1995, and even now with this first edition available for sale in the US, 36 YEARS later, readers of Manual of Painting and Calligraphy may still be missing the direction of Saramago's writing because they are charmed by this painting/writing character.

There is sarcasm here, the same sarcasm that will permeate Memorio do Convento (Balthazar and Blimunda), albeit here in this first book, veiled and equivocal. This book is Saramago's skeleton version of a Bildungsroman (a coming-of-age novel) at 54 years of age, and if it exists as a form, a Kunstlerroman (a writer's novel).

From the epigram, the basis of the book now seems to be entirely an effort to place the author himself in a point in time- post WWII, where culture drags on as if war never ended- where the old ways still persist and the efforts of a vast war of liberation and sacrifice have done little to efface intellectual arrogance, bourgeois cliques, sentimentality for a decadent and disfunctional past....ah!... the poisoning effect of Western Culture.

In this regime, the author's main character is fashioned SOLELY to be depreciated.
Portraiture as an art is depreciated.
His first sitter, the big-wig capitalist, is depreciated, after an exquisite examination of his name and naming.
The writer himself, and his lover, as lovers, are depreciated.
The secretary, a social climbing tramp, is depreciated.
His friends are depreciated.
His bourgeois clients in town who threw him out, they are depreciated.
His writing efforts by emulating Defoe, an early proponent of the novel- whom Saramago himself admires in reality- they are depreciated.
His Italian travelogues, which are SO GOOD they make the author's effort TO BE BAD look hypocritical to the reader- THEY are depreciated.

At this point you have to laugh, but then-

His second painting, which is no promise of salvation- in fact all second paintings are depreciated. Now you are not laughing because now you see that he may never have meant to DISCOVER PAINTING, admiring writing as the only path to truth:

"I would probably exchange all my talents as a painter in order to discover the deeper motivations which lead people to write."

Then there is another liaison for the writer, an idyllic pairing- a silent physical comradeship and a call to action- a prototype for Balthazar and Blimunda. Now we clearly see the advance of a broad, literate exposition of a communist point of view from the depths of an experience and detail we may not have thought of before.

It is the wonderfully 'period' idyllic language of communism:

"The best history of mankind would be the one that gathers up all the ears of grain from the ground in one fell swoop, and then raises the different phases of time to the heavens for our eyes, ripe grains all of them, yet still far from being bread." (this is almost Ayn Rand in complete political reverse.)

"[The big corporation] SPQR has one of those revolving doors which I regard as the bourgeois version of the boulder covering the entrance of the Cave of the Forty Thieves."

"The best weapon against death is not our simple life, however unique or truly precious it may be to us. The best weapon is not this life of mine, which is terrified of death, it is everything that was life before and has endured, from generation to generation, up to the present."

"Once dead, it is no longer possible to know who [a man] was,"

which is followed by a beautiful exposition of being and time leading into Marguerite Yourcenar's line she writes [ Memoirs of Hadrian ]for long dead Hadrian:

"The true birthplace is that wherein for the first time one looks intelligently upon oneself."

Saramago rephrases this thought and writes words that literally LEAP OFF THE PAGE:

"What is time, for someone who is dying at this moment- without ever knowing where he was born through the knowledge that comes from understanding?"

(and for me this line jumped right into an AIDS patient's bed in John Irving's new novel [In One Person: A Novel ](see my review : 7/24/12) which I was reading at the same time as this one...)

BUT- WHAT IF this precisely is the true assessment of Saramago's own state of mind, an expression of his own deeper emotions which led HIM to write?

And then there is the second exercise in autobiography- the Venice Biennale chapter- from Trubbiani's zinc birds all the way to the end of the next chapter- the story of "The Sparrow and the Catapult" and beyond. These are the highest points of Saramago's literary excursions in this book, the metaphor of the baby in the womb and the folded carpenter's ruler, the body buried for 400 years beneath the youth who knows everything, the joint wills of the inhabitants of a city, the location of a man and a sheet of paper, the continuous molding of the face from within, the repeated separations of individuals on paper, who are also part of everything...

"Every work of art, even if as modest as this one of mine, must provide verification. If we want to look for something, we must lift up the lid (stone or cloud, but let us call it the lid) which is concealing it. And I am convinced we shall have little value as artists if...after finding what we were looking for...we..."
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Notable only for being Saramago's first novel. 5 May 2012
By Jeremy Storly - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
At his best, Saramago was notable for seamlessly infusing motifs of art, philosophy and politics into his novels. These motifs are to be found in _Manual of Painting and Calligraphy_, his first attempt at a novel, but the result is less masterfully crafted than his other books, the work choppy and unsatisfying.

It could be that H., the novel's protagonist who evolves as artist-cum-writer, is not very likeable. In fact, unlike in Saramago's other works, it is challenging to sympathize with any character in _Manual_. The struggle of H. is set in the context of Salazar's Estado Novo, and as one reads, it becomes apparent what Saramago is trying to accomplish, but the book lacks pathos and quickly becomes rather monotonous. "Monotonous" may be too strong a word. Actually, the book is not bad for a novel; it is simply bad for a novel by Saramago.

If there is one good reason to read this book, it is as a textbook example of an author struggling to find his voice and awkwardly incorporate some themes that blossomed in his later works. It is apparent that when Saramago wrote _Manual_, he was still growing as author. It is also apparent why this book was never translated into English during the author's lifetime.
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