Death with Interruptions by José Saramago

Originally posted at: A Girl that Likes Books on April 6, 2012


Book summary (by

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 was to fall in love?

Book review

Have any of you read any of Saramago’s books before? I have only read Blindness, a book where everyone except for one person, becomes blind, and shows the changes of the society under this change. Well, this book, Death with Interruptions, explores the situation in which people just stopped dying.

If you haven’t read Saramago before, you should know something; his writing style is particular and is not for everyone. What do I mean by that? Well for example, he is a fan of long paragraphs, and, at least for the books I’ve read from him, he doesn’t separate the dialogs in lines, so if you open the book randomly you might be under the impression that there are no dialogs at all, even though it is not the case. So is a “demanding” reading in the sense that you have to really be paying  attention to realize that you enter a dialog. But I happen to like it. 

It was funny how I stumble upon this book, a dear friend of mine was telling me how she was trying to read a book, she didn’t remember the name, but it was “hard to read, because there are no paragraphs”. I remember thinking that it sounded familiar. Then, a couple of days after she came into my lab, handing me a book and saying: “Here! I can’t, you try it” And then…I saw it, the name in the front…and I understood perfectly what she meant. Even more funny, when I told the story to another friend of mine, he had the same “off course” moment when I mentioned it was Saramago. 

If you have the opportunity to read the book, have patience, I cannot extend more how at first is hard to get used to his style, his long sentences that become paragraphs, but for the 2 books I have read from him so far, I have to say, it is worth it.

But, back to the book. I don’t know if it was because the first time I read him was in Spanish, or because his mother tongue is Portuguese, but when I was reading the book, the words took a Latino accent invariably, and I think that subconsciously I was translating the words. The story begins just as the review says, people stop dying all of the sudden. Off course at first people are thrilled…healthy people that is. You see, people only stopped dying, not getting sick, nor aging. So off course, you have people in never ending agony, never dying. 

As always (here I am taking the liberty to say always, considering that I have only read 2 of his books, but every critic I’ve read about Saramago’s work seem to agree with me) he uses this fictional situation to critic different parts of society. In the first 20 pages I found a very enjoyable moment about the Minister of Health addressing the population:

                “He could have left the matter there, […], but the well-known impulse to urge people to keep calm about everything and nothing and to remain quietly […], which is a tropism of politicians […] led him to conclude the conversation in the worst possible way […]”

So simple words, yet a powerful critic of the mania of politicians to tell us whether to or not to panic, and then it goes on to show the other side, the journalist using the tiniest word to his advantage.  Further I found this other sentence that just made me put the book down and think:

                “Whether we like it or not, the one justification for the existence of all religions is death, they need death as much as we need bread to eat”

Did I mention before that Saramago was a declared atheist? Critic to established religion is a constant in his work, and this book is no exception.
Eventually, someone finds a loophole in this…people are not dying in A country, not all over the world, so people start crossing the border with their loved, almost dead ones, so they can finally rest…the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, ha?. This off course, creates a political issue, since the surrounding countries are not particularly happy about people crossing their borders just to die. But wait…only humans are not dying. And that’s when a particular question arises: Have you ever wonder if death is the same for all living things?

Then, one day, death is back…with a letter announcing the end of the situation. I will not mention her reasons here, for I found them delightful, but keep in mind that the reason I kept writing death with a lower case d is due to another letter that appears later in the book that, once again, will leave you thinking. 

But then someone, a man, “escapes” from his faith, that is, he doesn’t die. We never discover why, and don’t worry, this is not a spoiler, because from the description, you know who this man is, the one that will make death learn about love.

Since this part is at the very end of the whole book, I will not tell you more about the story itself. I loved the way Saramago portrays death, her character, her behavior.  Aside from the way he critics society and the way we react to a change in the status quo, I have to say my favorite part is the way the character is constructed, presented and described. Funny, there is a part where someone critics the way death writes…which incidentally is remarkably similar to that from Saramago. 

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