All the Names by Jose Saramago

Synopsis of All the Names by Jose Saramago: Senhor José is a low-grade clerk in the city's Central Registry, where the living and the dead share the same shelf space. A middle-aged bachelor, he has no interest in anything beyond the certificates of birth, marriage, divorce, and death that are his daily routine. But one day, when he comes across the records of an anonymous young woman, something happens to him. Obsessed, Senhor José sets off to follow the thread that may lead him to the woman-but as he gets closer, he discovers more about her, and about himself, than he would ever have wished.

The loneliness of people's lives, the effects of chance, the discovery of love-all coalesce in this extraordinary novel that displays the power and art of José Saramago in brilliant form.

The book in one sentence: Senhor Jose’s otherwise humdrum life as a clerk in the Central Registry turns topsy-turvy as in the course of collecting info on famous people, he picks up an ordinary woman’s birth certificate … and obsesses to track her down.

I would recommend it to: Those who love to get lost in meandering descriptions.

OK bits: I loved this book – but I think you need to get into a state of mind. Don’t read this if you’re in a rush or looking for a quick read. This is a book to get lost in during a boring rainy day with nothing to do. The story is sparse but how it is told is amazing. Saramago tells it like he were right next to you, conversational and in run-on sentences (in fact some sentences would run on for over a page!). But the voice is clear, honest, direct. I got so drawn into the mundanity of Senhor Jose’s life, I actually found myself rooting for him.

Boring bits: While the book’s strength is its prose, it is also its Achilles heel. If you flip through the book and see how dense the paragraphs are, you may just be turned off. Don’t be daunted, don’t shortchange yourself.

Verdict: Loved it. I’m in awe at how Saramago weaves this tale about loneliness, anonymity and how people naturally seek meaning and identity throughout their lives.

Random quote:
Apart from his first name, Jose, Senhor Jose also has surnames, very ordinary ones, nothing extravagant, one from his father’s side, another from his mother’s, as is normal, names legitimately transmitted, as we could confirm in the Register of Births in the Central Registry if the matter justified our interest and if the results of that inquiry repaid the labour of merely confirming what we already know.

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© guiltless readingMaira Gall