Voice

José Saramago (1922–2010) is a Nobel laureate and one of the most important figures in modern Portuguese literature. His 1980 novel Levantado do Chão (Raised from the Ground) is now published in English by Harvill Secker and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, translated by Margaret Jull Costa.
www.randomhouse.co.uk

Viva Portugal

The bullring is packed. Hordes of farm labourers have been herded in there, sometimes by a landowner, smiling and chatty, and there's always some lackey toadying up to him, shaming those who came for the sensible reason that they feared being left jobless. On the whole, though, they do their best to appear happy. That's the kindness of the crowd, not wishing to disappoint the person who expects us to be contented, and although it's true that this doesn't look much like a party, it's no one's funeral either, so tell me what face to wear, should I cheer or boo, cry or laugh, tell me. They're sitting on the benches in the stands, others fill the arena, it would be better if there were some bulls there, and they still have no idea what's going to happen or what exactly a rally is. Where has Requinta got to, Requinta, when does the party begin. Friends and acquaintances wave to each other, the more timid among them change places in search of some braver souls, Come over here, and then Requinta says, Keep together and pay attention, this is a serious business, we came here to find out who is on the side of good and who on the side of evil, that would be useful, wouldn't it, to have Requinta lead us by the hand towards a knowledge of good and evil, who would have thought it could be so easy, Father Agamedes, all you have to do is stop thinking and plonk your bum down on a bench, Where do we go to take a piss, Requinta, such talk is the first sign of a lack of respect, and Requinta frowns and pretends not to hear, but now the rally is about to start, Ladies and gentlemen, that's funny, so in the bullring in Évora, I'm a gentleman, am I, I don't remember being a gentleman anywhere else, not even by my own choice, what's he saying, Viva Portugal, I can't hear him, We are gathered here today, united by the same patriotic ideal, in order to say to our government that we are pledged to continue the great Lusitanian adventure and that we promise to follow in the footsteps of those ancestors who gave the world whole new worlds and spread both faith and empire, and when the trumpet sounds, we will come together, as one man, around Salazar, the genius who has dedicated his life, here there are shouts of salazar salazar salazar, the genius who has dedicated his life to the service of the country, against the barbarous threat from Moscow, against those wretched communists who threaten our families and who would kill your parents, rape your wives and daughters, who would send your sons to labour camps in Siberia and destroy the holy mother church, for they are atheists, godless men with no morals and no shame, down with communism, death to all traitors, the bullring bawls out the slogan, some still have no idea what they're doing here, others have begun to understand and are saddened, some are convinced, or deceived, a worker makes a speech, then another speaker, he's from the Portuguese legion, he stretches out one arm and bawls, Who gives the orders, who gives us life, well, that's a good question, the boss gives the orders, and as for life, what's that. But the obedient bullring gives the expected response, and no sooner has the legionnaire stopped speaking than another man is there, mouth open, they certainly talk a lot these people, something about Spain, about how the nationalists are fighting the reds, and how the lands of Castile and Andalusia are defending the sacred, eternal values of western civilisation, that it's every man's duty to help our fellow believers, and that the remedy for communism is to be found in a return to the Christian morality whose living symbol is Salazar, goodness me, we have a living symbol, we must not be soft on our enemies, words words words, and then he goes on to talk about the good people of the region, expressing their gratitude to that immortal statesman and great Portuguese citizen who has devoted his whole life to serving his country, may God preserve him, and I will tell the president what I saw today in this historic city of Évora, and promise him that each of the thousands of hearts was beating in unison with that of the fatherland, that each heart is the fatherland, that deathless, sublime and most beautiful of all fatherlands, because we are blessed with a government that places the interests of the nation above the interests of any one social class, because men pass and the nation remains, death to communism or is it down with communism, who cares, among so many people who's going to notice, we must remember that life in the Alentejo, contrary to what many may think, is not propitious to the development of subversive ideas, because the workers are the true partners of the landowners, sharing the profits and losses, ha ha, ha, Where do I go to take a piss, Requinta, that's just a joke, no one here would dare say such a thing at a moment of such gravity, when the nation, which never has to take a piss, is being evoked by that well-dressed gentleman on the platform, who is opening wide his arms as if he wanted to embrace us all, and since he can't do that, the men on the platform embrace each other, the commander of the legion, the major from Setúbal, the members of parliament, the man from their national union, the captain of cavalry regiment five, a man from the en-i-double-u-double-u, if you don't know what that means, just ask, the national institute of work and welfare, and all the others who have travelled from Lisbon, they look like rooks perched on top of a holm oak, but that's where you're wrong, we are all rooks, lined up on the benches, flapping our wings, cawing away, and now it's time for the music, it's the national anthem, everyone stands up, some because they know it's the thing to do, others out of pure imitation, Requinta reviews his men, Come on, sing, I wish I could, who knows the national anthem, if it was some popular song we all knew, that would be another matter, oh, are we leaving, no, it's not time to leave yet, if only we could fly, spread our wings and fly far from here, over the fields, watching from on high the trucks driving back, how sad, it was all so sad, and we shouted as if we had been paid to do it, I don't know what's worse, it's not right, it was like a carnival farce.

Translated by Margaret Jull Costa. From Raised from the Ground, published by Harvill Secker and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Back

cover

Issue 20 £6.99

Back Issues £5.20 to £14.50

Visit shop