Summary and book reviews of Death with Interruptions by Jose Saramago

Death with Interruptions

By Jose Saramago

Death with Interruptions
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2008,
    256 pages.
    Paperback: Sep 2009,
    256 pages.

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Book Summary

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?

Excerpt
Death with Interruptions

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 ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

... By the time the narrator has finished with her, death has brought the novel around to yet another fabulous terrain. The ending casts the first sentence in an entirely different light, and I closed the book in triumph and delight.   (Reviewed by Amy Reading).

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Media Reviews
Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The package is profound, resonant and - bonus - entertaining

Library Journal

Starred Review. One of our greatest living writers, Saramago continues to produce stimulating and multifaceted work well into his eighties.

Kirkus Reviews

Simultaneously, we may sense we hear the voice of a great artisan who may not have shown us the last of his creations; who instead whispers his promise: Not just yet, there's more to be told.

The New Yorker - James Wood

Death with Interruptions is a small-ish, toothy addition to a great novelist’s work. It efficiently mobilizes its hypothetical test case, and quickly generates a set of sharp theological and metaphysical questions about the desirability of utopia, the possibility of Heaven, and the true foundation of religion.

San Francisco Chronicle - Linda Burnett

Seamlessly translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa, Saramago's novel is equal parts whimsical allegory and scholarly dissertation on the meaning of life in the absence of death. It is a book of ideas.

The New York Times - D T Max

[H]ere as in his other recent books, there is an airlessness to Saramago’s writing. One senses that the author, a lifelong critic of capitalism, is mostly interested in pricking the modern state. Critique muscles out character. The book’s humor is thin ... the novelist has to want the readers he or she has. With Saramago, the rustling sound is the feeling he's pushing us away.

The Washington Post - Ron Charles

If this sounds campy, it is, but Saramago is always ten steps ahead of us, subverting cliches, interjecting ancient philosophical concerns into his gags and scattering grenades of bitterness among the laughs…This is a story that can't possibly work or affect us, but it does, deeply, sweetly. It's a novel to die for.

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Beyond the Book

Death in Literature

Saramago's characterization of death departs from convention in several ways—not least in her insistence in remaining lower case: "I am not Death, but death. Death is something of which you could never even conceive, and please note, mister grammarian, that I did not conclude that phrase with a preposition, you human beings only know the small everyday death that is me, the death which, even in the very worst disasters, is incapable of preventing life from continuing, one day you will find out about Death with a capital D, and at that moment, you will understand the real difference between the relative and the absolute, between full and empty, between still alive and no longer alive…."

...

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