THE CONVENT OF MAFRA AND 25 YEARS OF JOSÉ SARAMAGO’s “MEMORIAL DO CONVENTO”

On 17 November 2007 the Portuguese daily PÚBLICO carried a set of three linked articles (pp. 14-15) by Mariana Pinheiro on the 25th anniversary of José Saramago’s ‘Memorial do Convento’, the historical novel based on the building of the Convent of Mafra in the eighteenth century which has, extraordinarily, sold one million copies in Portugal alone (a 25th anniversary commemorative edition has just come out).

 

In the article ‘Vinte e cinco anos e um milhão de livros da memorável história de um convento’ (’25 years and one million books of the memorable history of a convent’ – p. 14), Mariana Pinheiro reminds readers that Saramago’s novel is now in its 43rd domestic edition and has been translated into 40 languages. She quotes the director of the Convent of Mafra national monument as saying that Saramago’s book has greatly increased the number of visitors to the convent, which multiplied by 63% between 1981 and 2006. The piece entitled ‘A escola e o restaurante que se inspiraram em Saramago’ (‘School and restaurant inspired by Saramago’ – p. 14) explains how the local secondary school has been renamed the José Saramago school (with Memorial do Convento now required reading on the syllabus), and how a restaurant has been founded in Mafra under the name ‘Sete-Sóis’ (‘Seven Suns’), the nickname of the character Baltasar in the book.

 

Finally, in ‘Um marco de incontestável importancia na literatura portuguesa’ (‘A vital reference point for Portuguese literature’ – p. 15), PÚBLICO reports on a colloquium held that same day in Mafra, and talks to the speaker Ana Paula Arnaut, of the Faculty of Letters of the University of Coimbra (author of the paper given there, ‘Memorial do Convento: a história reinventada’ – ‘Memorial do Convento: history reinvented’). She stresses the active role of the reader in Saramago’s novel, his use of language to ‘recriar os mundos’ (‘re-create worlds’), his sympathy with the exploited and the subaltern, and the novelist’s key place, as established already during his lifetime, in the history of Portuguese literature.

 

Ana Paula Arnaut’s important role in the study and dissemination of José Saramago’s work has earlier been mentioned elsewhere on this blog (entries for 30 May 2006 and 7 January 2007).

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