Tiffany's Reviews > The History of the Siege of Lisbon

The History of the Siege of Lisbon by José Saramago
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's review
May 17, 10

really liked it
bookshelves: 2010, international-fiction
Read from May 11 to 17, 2010

I included this book on my "history" shelf. Oh, how funny I am!

I'm funny because The History of the Siege of Lisbon exposes the subjectivity of history, in that there can be almost no "true truth" because of such subjectivity. Saramago astutely reminds us to beware of anything masquerading as fact, as life carries with it too many variables for us to know how things happened and by whom. To demonstrate this argument, his protagonist Raimundo Silva, a proofreader, inserts a "not" into a history text, changing its meaning so the crusaders did NOT help the Portuguese conquer Libson.

At first, a couple things seemed a little off-putting:
1. Saramago uses only commas and periods. Guess which one he uses the most?
2. Silva can't explain why he inserted the "not" into the text. He never really does. It's as if something "compelled" him to do so, and with considerable professional risk, no less. As one of the least spontaneous people on earth, this is super out of character.

But I grew accustomed to these things. The commas just prove the resiliency of the English language (and the adaptability of a brain who recoils at the thought of a run-on), and I'm guessing Raimundo's Grand Act simply serves to further highlight the randomness of life. And as a result of this act, he totally changes his life.

One things leads to another, and soon Raimundo is writing a NEW history of the siege of Lisbon, one where his "not" exists where an affirmative once stood. Then there's a love story, a pretty hot sex scene, and all along the new history intermingled with it all. The latter I wasn't into so much, but the payoff of beautiful language and so many delightful little pockets of almost truths made the boring stuff not so tedious.

Saramago fulfills the true goal of a writer: he completely tears life down to its tiniest bits where truth can "almost" be found. He's got the true hand of a surgeon, dissecting the world around him with the sharpest scalpel.

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Reading Progress

05/11/2010 page 15
4.78% "Holy commas, Batman."
05/14/2010 page 119
37.9% "Now that I've gotten used to the style, I'm really enjoying this."
05/15/2010 page 154
49.04% "There is no truth."
05/17/2010 page 255
81.21% "Will finish tonight, review tomorrow."
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