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 celebrationflags are hung out on balconies, people dance in the streets. They have achieved the great goal of humanity: eternal life. Then reality hits homefamilies 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?
Death with Interruptions
THE FOLLOWING DAY, NO ONE DIED. THIS FACT, BEING ABSOLUTELY contrary to lifes rules, provoked enormous and, in the circumstances, perfectly justifiable anxiety in peoples 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 years 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 ...
... 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).
Full Review (1089 words).
Death in Literature
Saramago's characterization of death departs from convention in several waysnot 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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