Death with Interruptions

by José Saramago, Margaret Jull Costa

Nobel Prize-winner Jose Saramago's brilliant new novel poses the question -- what happens when the grim reaper decides there will be no more death?

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780547247885
  • ISBN-10: 0547247885
  • Pages: 256
  • Publication Date: 09/02/2009
  • Carton Quantity: 24

Also available in:

About the Book
About the Authors
  • About the Book
    Nobel Prize-winner Jose Saramago's brilliant novel poses the question—what happens when the grim reaper decides there will be no more death?
    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?

  • About the Author
  • Excerpts
    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 for a day. There
    was, however, no shortage of blood. Bewildered, confused, distraught,
    struggling to control their feelings of nausea, the firemen
    extracted from the mangled remains wretched human
    bodies that, according to the mathematical logic of the collisions,
    should have been well and truly dead, but which, despite
    the seriousness of the injuries and lesions suffered, remained
    alive and were carried off to hospital, accompanied by the shrill
    sound of the ambulance sirens. None of these people would die
    along the way and all would disprove the most pessimistic of
    medical prognoses, There’s nothing to be done for the poor
    man, it’s not even worth operating, a complete waste of time,
    said the surgeon to the nurse as she was adjusting his mask. And
    the day before, there would probably have been no salvation for
    this particular patient, but one thing was clear, today, the victim
    refused to die. And what was happening here was happening
    throughout the country. Up until the very dot of midnight
    on the last day of the year there were people who died in full
    compliance with the rules, both those relating to the nub of
    the matter, i.e. the termination of life, and those relating to the
    many ways in which the aforementioned nub, with varying degrees
    of pomp and solemnity, chooses to mark the fatal moment.
    One particularly interesting case, interesting because of
    the person involved, was that of the very ancient and venerable
    queen mother. At one minute to midnight on the thirty- first of
    december, no one would have been so ingenuous as to bet a
    spent match on the life of the royal lady. With all hope lost, with
    the doctors helpless in the face of the implacable medical evidence,
    the royal family, hierarchically arranged around the bed,
    waited with resignation for the matriarch’s last breath, perhaps
    a few words, a final edifying comment regarding the moral ed-
    ucation of the beloved princes, her grandsons, perhaps a beautiful,
    well- turned phrase addressed to the ever ungrateful memory
    of future subjects. And then, as if time had stopped, nothing
    happened. The queen mother neither improved nor deteriorated,
    she remained there in suspension, her frail body hovering
    on the very edge of life, threatening at any moment to tip
    over onto the other side, yet bound to this side by a tenuous
    thread to which, out of some strange caprice, death, because it
    could only have been death, continued to keep hold. We had
    passed over to the next day, and on that day, as we said at the
    beginning of this tale, no one would die.
         It was already late afternoon when the rumor began to
    spread that, since the beginning of the new year, or more precisely
    since zero hour on this first day of january, there was no
    record in the whole country of anyone dying. You might think,
    for example, that the rumor had its origins in the queen mother’s
    surprising resistance to giving up the little life that was left to
    her, but the truth is that the usual medical bulletin issued to the
    media by the palace’s press office not only stated that the general
    state of the royal patient had shown visible signs of improvement
    during the night, it even suggested, indeed implied,
    choosing its words very carefully, that there was a chance that
    her royal highness might be restored to full health. In its initial
    form, the rumor might also have sprung, naturally enough,
    from an undertaker’s, No one seems to want to die on this first
    day of the new year, or from a hospital, That fellow in bed
    twenty- seven can’t seem to make up his mind one way or the
    other, or from a spokesman for the traffic police, It’s really odd,
    you know, despite all the accidents on the road, there hasn’t been
    a single death we can hold up as a warning to others. The rumor,
    whose original source was never discovered, although, of course,
    this hardly mattered in the light of what came afterward, soon
    reached the newspapers, the radio and the television, and immediately
    caused the ears of directors, assistant directors and
    editors- in- chief to prick up, for these are people not only
    primed to sniff out from afar the major events of world history,
    they’re also trained in the ability, when it suits, to make those
    events seem even more major than they really are. In a matter
    of minutes, dozens of investigative journalists were out on the
    street asking questions of any joe schmo who happened by, while
    the ranks of telephones in the throbbing editorial offices stirred
    and trembled in an identical investigatory frenzy. Calls were
    made to hospitals, to the red cross, to the morgue, to funeral directors,
    to the police, yes, all of them, with the understandable
    exception of the secret branch, but the replies given could be
    summed up in the same laconic words, There have been no
    deaths. A young female television reporter had more luck when
    she interviewed a passer- by, who kept glancing alternately at her
    and at the camera, and who described his personal experience,
    which was identical to what had happened to the queen mother,
    The church clock was striking midnight, he said, when, just before
    the last stroke, my grandfather, who seemed on the very
    point of expiring, suddenly opened his eyes as if he’d changed
    his mind about the step he was about to take, and didn’t die.
    The reporter was so excited by what she’d heard that, ignoring
    all his pleas and protests, No, senhora, I can’t, I have to go to the
    chemist’s, my grandfather’s waiting for his prescription, she
    bundled him into the news car, Come with me, your grandfather
    doesn’t need prescriptions any more, she yelled, and ordered the
    driver to go straight to the television studio, where, at that precise
    moment, everything was being set up for a debate between
    three experts on paranormal phenomena, namely, two highly
    regarded wizards and a celebrated clairvoyant, hastily summoned
    to analyze and give their views on what certain wags, the
    kind who have no respect for anything, were already beginning
    to refer to as a death strike. The bold reporter was, however, laboring
    under the gravest of illusions, for she had interpreted the
    words of her interviewee as meaning that the dying man had,
    quite literally, changed his mind about the step he was about to
    take, namely, to die, cash in his chips, kick the bucket, and so
    had decided to turn back. Now, the words that the happy grandson
    had pronounced, As if he’d changed his mind, were radically
    different from a blunt, He changed his mind. An elementary
    knowledge of syntax and a greater familiarity with the elasti...

  • Reviews

    "Saramago is arguably the greatest writer of our time . . . He has the power to throw a dazzling flash of lightning on his subjects, an eerily and impossibly prolonged moment of clarity that illuminates details beyond the power of sunshine to reveal."—Chicago Tribune
    "Reading the Portuguese writer José Saramago, one quickly senses the presence of a master."—The Christian Science Monitor

You May Also Enjoy