José Saramago details the grinding abuse of power, the economic injustice, the destruction of human hope and potential, all inherent in feudalism as it seeks refuge from modernity by morphing into fascism in rural 20th century Portugal. The account is graphic and well informed from Saramago’s own early life experience. The style is conversational through the effective device of sentences strung together with commas into single long reflective expressions. The moral challenge to the system, society, its institutions and the people within them, is made strongly, with devastating sarcasm. People’s interaction with the state is a strong theme : church and police side entirely with the regime. The whole account is expressed movingly through people’s life stories.
Both feudalism and fascism appear explicitly defined and designed to be unjust. In feudalism you are born to loss of potential, in fascism it is forced on you. One wonders what Saramago would make of injustice in democratic societies? Margaret Jull Costa’s translation is very readable and engaging.