Raised from the Ground -- A Novel by Jose' Saramago, HMH '80, $26, 363 pages, ASIN #015101325X.
Not for nothing did Jose' Saramago win the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature. Raised from the Ground, the first U.S. Edition of a work first published in 1980, may startle some readers who are used to the author's more recent brilliant works such as Blindness, in which everyone in a modern bustling city is struck blind on weekday afternoon, or Death with Interruptions, in which, after a particular day in the same kind of city, no one dies.
Both books can be read as allegories, but I prefer the practical approach of puzzling out how a sophisticated city would cope with quotidian life while maintaining its sanity. For instance, in Death with Interruptions, what happens to morticians when they no longer have a livelihood or hospital hospice units, when its desperately ill patients fail to die?
Raised from the Ground is a more conventional novel, although not without Saramago's signature style, such as overlong sentences. At its center is three generations of the Mau-Tempo (bad times) family, poverty-stricken, landless peasants in Alentejo, a southern province of Portugal. Their seemingly endless ill fortunes are set against a background portraying "the coming of the republic in Portugal, two world wars, and an attempt on the dictator Salazar's life. Yet nothing really impinges on the grim reality of the farm laborers' lives until the first communist stirrings," the latter happening being unsurprising given Saramago's long-time membership in the Portuguese Communist Party.
Jose' Saramago (1922--2010) wrote many novels and, in 1998, won the Nobel Prize for Literature.
On the Edge -- Mapping North America's Coasts by Roger McCoy, Oxford UP '12, $29.95, 256 pages, ASIN #0199744041. Index, bibliography, notes, glossary, appendix, b&w images, including maps, sprinkled throughout text.
In his riveting new book, scholar Roger M. McCoy challenges today's readers to envision a time when the earth was unknown and uncharted and craft a mechanism to figure out the shape of a continent and to produce a map after having seen a place for the first time. For these were tools employed in the story of the 400-year effort to map North America's coast.
"Drawing upon diaries, journals, and primary sources," McCoy "bases his tale on the narratives of mariners who sought a passage through the continent to Asia and created maps as a result of their journeys. These adventurous explorers were forced to rely on the most basic mapping tools and to deal with life-threatening conditions along the way: the constant threat of frostbite, scurvy, starvation, and ice that could keep them in place for months on end." McCoy's story is told from the perspective of explorers -- including John Cabot, John Davis, Henry Hudson, and Captain Cook, to name a few..."
Roger M. McCoy is professor emeritus, University of Utah, and author of Ending in Ice.
Portrait of a Russian Province -- Economy, Society, and Civilization in Nineteenth-Century Nizhnii Novgorod by Catherine Evtuhov, UPittsburgh Press '11 paperback, $34.95, 344 pages, 26 illustrations, ASIN #0822961717. Index, selected bibliography, notes, b&w and color images sprinkled through text.
From the back cover:
"A powerful premise tends to dominate conventional interpretations of Russian history; that the sheer immensity of the country's provincial backwardness explains almost everything negative about the course of Russian history, in every significant sphere of activity from high politics to everyday life.
"Catherine Evtuhov is determined to undermine such preconceptions. Her in-depth study of the province of Nizhnii Novgorod demonstrates how nearly everything we thought we knew about the dynamics of 19th century Russian Society was distorted. Instead of peasants ground down by poverty and ignorance, we find skilled farmers, talented artisans and craftsmen, and enterprising tradespeople. In the place of a centralized state monopolizing all administrative activity, we discover effective and participatory local government. Rather than provincial ignorance, we are shown a lively cultural scene and an active middle class."
Catherine Evtuhov is an associate professor of history at Georgetown University and has written or edited several books about Russia.