“Sometimes I wonder if certain memories are really mine or if they’re just someone else’s memories of episodes in which I was merely an unwitting actor and which I found out about later when they were told to me by others.” Who hasn’t felt this way? Wondered whether a memory came from a photograph or a story or an actual event?
José Saramago, driven by longing for the village in which he was born but also for a self he fears he has lost, goes painstakingly back over his early memories. Sometimes he writes in the third person, sometimes the first. Some events are more vivid than others — pinned in the consciousness of his long life by pain or beauty or the intensity of the senses. Olive trees and cornfields, the cruelty of bullies, skinned knees, various courtships, learning to read, the death of his 4-year-old brother when he was 2 — Saramago climbs these and other mountains in search of a view. “If only I could once again plunge my childhood nakedness into the river, if I could grasp in today’s hands the long, damp pole or the sonorous oars of yesteryear, and propel across the water’s smooth skin the rustic boat that used to carry, to the very frontiers of dreams, the being I was then and whom I left stranded somewhere in time.” The writer died last year at age 87.