Review

All the Names

by Jose Saramago



Of all the names you need to remember if you want to read a
sparkling, illuminating, intelligent and exciting novel, remember
Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago. Gunter Grass and Gabriel Garcia
Marquez are always mentioned at the forefront of accomplished
international novelists. Saramago should be mentioned as well. With
the publication of BLINDNESS in 1998, Saramago received the
much-deserved Nobel Prize. With that book, readers began to see
that he is an amazing author and now are looking back to his novels
before BLINDNESS, such as THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO JESUS CHRIST and
THE STONE RAFT. Saramago's first novel since BLINDNESS is ALL THE
NAMES, a novel of simple prose and intelligent ironies rich in
thought.

"Apart from his first name, Jose, Senhor Jose also has surnames,
very ordinary ones, nothing extravagant, one from his father's
side, another from his mother's, as is normal, names legitimately
transmitted, as we could confirm in the Register of Births in the
Central Registry if the matter justified our interest and if the
results of that inquiry repaid the labour of merely confirming what
we already know."

Senhor Jose is a timid and reclusive middle aged bachelor working
as a low-level bureaucrat in an unnamed Central Registry of Births,
Marriages, and Deaths. His only passion is collecting clippings of
famous people from the newspaper. Late at night, he sneaks into the
registry and makes copies of their birth certificates. He lives in
a house connected to the Registry's main building. His life is
spent recording, filing, and retrieving records from the Registry's
archives; he's been working with the records for 20 years. The
reader immediately feels some sense of pity for the man whose life
revolves around the lives of others.

One day Senhor Jose stumbles across a stray record of an unknown
36-year-old woman and his life suddenly changes, his obsession
suddenly changes. He needs to find out all he can about this woman.
He needs to know who she is, to flesh her out, to understand more
about some of the dates. This leads him on a path to breaking the
rules with more and more regularity --- forging official papers,
breaking into the building, removing records from the institution.
But the Registrar, his unnamed boss, a godlike figure whose name is
spoken only in whispers, is taking a personal interest in his lowly
employee and may discover Senhor Jose's misdeeds. And what of the
woman? Will he find her? And what will happen if or when he
does?

Saramago writes with clarity and simplicity and lets the words work
their way into the reader like a warm summer tide upon a sandy
beach. The ironies, wittiness, and honesty all sweep up slowly and
quietly, whetting the mind's appetite for more. Most importantly,
ALL THE NAMES puts a name to our loneliness. It seeks to explain
our need to search for human companionship, however tenuous. It
captures an ordinary life and makes it blossom into something
extraordinary, letting the reader know that there are no ordinary
people. Everyone has something they live for, something they
believe in, something they love. They can't put a name to it, but
it's there nonetheless.

Reviewed by Jonathan Shipley on January 20, 2011

All the Names
by Jose Saramago

  • Publication Date: October 5, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books
  • ISBN-10: 0156010593
  • ISBN-13: 9780156010597