The year: 1936. Europe dances while an invidious dictator establishes himself in Portugal. The city: Lisbon - gray, colorless, chimerical. Ricardo Reis, a doctor and poet, has just come home after 16 years in Brazil.
"Ricardo Reis, 'age, forty-eight, place of birth, Oporto, marital status, bachelor, profession, doctor, last place of residence, Rio de Janeiro,' returns to his native Portugal in 1936 as Europe rattles toward war. Published to acclaim in Portugal in 1984, this novel--full of poetry and philosophical musings--traffics over many levels: there is the world-weary Reis, coming home (perhaps) to die; there is an aging Europe, on the eve of its worst hours, seen from the peculiar vantage of a tiny country whose soul has removed to Brazil; and there is the great Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa who, though dead, visits Reis in his rooms and in cafes, wryly discoursing about life as seen from the other side. Saramago evokes an unforgettable image of Lisbon - surreal and ludicrous - an odd but affecting mix of elegy and gothic humor.... This extraordinarily nuanced work alternates a sunlit Borgesian playfulness with darker, more obsessive musings in what is altogether a bravura performance." (Publishers Weekly)
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This is one of Saramago's many superb fictions. Saramago was from Portugal. He wrote in Portuguese. Portuguese is not Spanish. Chances are that if you have read a work by Saramago, you know this. But it seems that neither Audible.com, the holder to the rights to this audio recording nor the person hired to read and record the novel, Michael McConnohie, know this. Or, if they do, they couldn't care less. It's already a shame that neither Audible nor, as far as I know, any producer of audio books has seen fit to make or sell an audio recording of the works of Nobel-prize winning authors such as Saramago in the original Portuguese. But it adds insult to misfortune to hear, in just the first few minutes of the audio narration of THE YEAR OF THE DEATH OF RICARDO REIS, Mr. McConnohie mispronounce virtually every Portuguese name he reads. It's hard not to conclude that Mr. McConnohie had never read the novel he records before recording it and that he might as well have been a machine programmed to turn words written in English into words sounding as though they WERE English een when they were not. He even mispronounces the name of Fernando Pessoa, the great 20th century Lisboan poet who created and wrote under a number of "heteronyms," in addition to writing and publishing under his own name. "Ricardo Reis" is one of those 'heteronyms,' and Saramago, in a kind of homage to Pessoa, writes a novel about the fictional poet who, thanks to his creator, Fernando Pessoa, wrote real poetry. It's beyond me how anyone who wasn't aware of all this could be expected to read aloud a novel and make it make sense to his listeners--or how anyone with any sense or how any company that cared a whit for the quality of its product could neglect to do the MINIMAL amount of research required to discover these basic facts of Portuguese literary and intellectual history. I just bought this audio book because I love the work of Saramago and, unable to find any recordings of his work in Portuguese, I decided to given an English translation a try. The translation itself is excellent; Saramago himself made sure of that. But the recording of the translation is a disgrace, so absurdly compromised by the ignorance of the reader that it is, effectively, impossible to listen to if you know the least thing about its author or the subject of the story. Regretfully, I'm going to return this item, thanks to Audible's admirable policy on returns. But shame on Audible for having the gall to sell such faulty merchandise. Does no one at Audible check of these things? Have they heard of something called quality control? And shame on its parent company, Amazon. You'd think that a mega-billion dollar enterprise such as Amazon might find it worthwhile to see to it that it's subsidiary marketed the works of a Nobel laureate based on some knowledge of the work itself. There are probably hundreds if not more scholars, many of them unemployed in today's disastrous job market, who could have advised Audible and Amazon and Mr. McConnohie on the basic facts that are required knowledge for anyone who is hired to record a novel. And who could have coached him on how to pronounce Portuguese names and words. Come to think of it, why not hire one of THEM to read the novel? I'm not looking for a job, but I could read this novel aloud in my sleep with more skill than is shown by Mr. McConnohie. And if I were given the job, say, of reading a Russian novel in English translation--Russian being a language I do not speak--I'd have made sure to consult a native speaker of Russian about how to pronounce the names. It can't be THAT difficult, assuming you give a d&^%n.
Mr. McConnohie: the name of Portugal's greatest modern poet, known the world over, is pronounced PessOa (three syllables, accent on the second, and not not PEssoa. For Pete's sake, how much work would it have taken in the age of Wikipedia to discover this? What a disgrace to the art of reading! Readers and admirers of José Saramago: DO NOT BUY THIS AUDIO BOOK! The narration will turn your stomach.