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Saramago, José
School of the Americas Watch, The
Seeing Like A State
Seventh Bullet, The
Slogans To Be Spread Now By Every Means
Social Fascists
Social-ism
Socialist Register
Solidarity Forever!
Starship Troopers

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Saramago, José

Readers of the Turtle have occasionally been known to put down their well- thumbed copies of Capital, and read works of fiction instead. Few contemporary authors deserve to be higher on summer reading lists than José Saramago.

After an abortive couple of novels written in his twenties, Saramago decided his writing career was over. For 20 years, between 1947 and 1966, Saramago didn't write a single fictive word, and worked as a clerk in a hospital. He joined the Portuguese Communist Party in 1969, in April 1974 he became the editor of the official Communist newspaper, and remained so until November 1975 when the incumbent centre-right regime purged him from his job. Faced with the prospect of unemployment, he started to write again, and with Raised From the Floor (1977) he finally found the fluid, disarming and richly simple voice which won him the Nobel prize for literature in 1998.

Saramago is a bit of a late bloomer -- he was 60 when he first won widespread critical acclaim for his Baltasar and Blimunda. To date he has written fewer than ten volumes, including two collections of poetry. But while his canon may not be large, it is certainly well charged. After hitting the big time with Baltasar and Blimunda, his second book won him notoriety: The Gospel According to Jesus Christ tells the of an all too human Jesus, conceived far from immaculately, and living the life of a not terribly talented shepherd. The result is a darkly funny, and poignant, revisiting of the origins of Christianity. Unfortunately, neither the Vatican nor the Portuguese government quite saw it like that, and the book was banned for blasphemy. In protest, Saramago left Portugal and now lives in Lanzarote. The book has since been translated into twelve languages and has earned Saramago a reputation as a world class author. Saramago: 1, Church of Rome: Nil.

The Turtle's aesthetic sensibility is not, however, affected solely by the virtue and credentials of the writer. Happily, Saramago writes like an angel. His most recent book, Blindness, is an elegiac and haunting fable of a country savaged by an epidemic of blindness. One day, and all of a sudden, the sight of some of the citizens dissolves into 'a milky whiteness'. In an attempt to control the spread of the disease, the blind are sent to an asylum, guarded by a frightened army, while the government figures out what to do with them. Only one character's sight is unaffected throughout all this: the optician's wife. (There are no proper names in the book at all - we only come to know characters by the names of their relationships with each other - the wife, the thief who visited the optician, the policeman who caught him, etc.) In this key passage, the doctor's wife passes some of the blind citizens:

"They crossed a square where groups of blind people entertained themselves by listening to speeches from other blind people, and at first sight neither group seemed to be blind, the speakers turned their heads excitedly towards the listeners and the listeners turned their heads attentively to the speakers. They were extolling the virtues of the fundamental principles of the great organised systems, private property, a free currency market, the market economy, the stock exchange, taxation, interest, expropriation and appropriation, production, distribution, consumption, supply and demand, poverty and wealth, communication, repression and delinquency, lotteries, prisons, of the penal code, the Seville code, the highway code, dictionaries, the telephone directory, networks of prostitution, of armaments factories, the Armed Forces, cemeteries, the police, smuggling, drugs, permitted illegal traffic, pharmaceutical research, gambling, the price of priests and funerals, justice, borrowing, political parties, collections, Parliaments, governments, complex, concave, horizontal, vertical, slotted, concentrated, diffuse, fleeting thoughts, the fraying of the vocal cords, the death of the word."

In this lyrical prose, the book follows the optician's wife, from her decision to feign blindness in order to follow her husband into the asylum, through the terror of the degenerating conditions there, and into the deserted city beyond. It is a powerful story, told with the compassion of Primo Levi's If this Is A Man, with the withering (and occasionally heavy handed) humour of Nineteen Eighty Four and raising, albeit far more subtly, some of the issues broached in The Lord of the Flies. Indeed, Blindness has started to creep on to undergraduate syllabi for precisely these reasons.

Meanwhile, Saramago continues to write and has just completed a short story, set off the northern coast of South America, "El Cuento de la Isla Desconocida" (The Tale of the Unknown Island), and he'll be giving 100% of the profits from it to the Colombian earthquake disaster relief fund. It is because of writing and gestures such as these that Saramago has become one of the Turtle's favourite Portuguese.

You can find Saramago's works in your local library.

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School of the Americas Watch, The

Read about the heroic activities of the School of the Americas Watch and its founder, Father Roy Bourgeois, in the Turtle's November Salute. The SOAW webpage is itself packed with useful information about the nefarious activities of the School of the Americas, and is highly recommended.

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Seeing Like A State

James C. Scott's Seeing Like A State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, published by Yale University Press in 1998 as a part of its Agrarian Studies Series, is the subject of the first Symposium of the Turtle, the heart of the Autumn Literary Harvest Festival of 1999.

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Seventh Bullet, The

(directed by Ali Khamraev, USSR, 1972, 85 mins, starring Dilorom Kambarova, Suimenkul Chokmorov, Bolot Bejshenaliyev, Talgat Nigmatulin)

Deeply obscure (as of June 2002, the Internet Movie Database has yet to receive five votes on its stature) but nonetheless fascinating, the mere fact that this