All the Names

All the Names

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Senhor José is a low-grade clerk in the city's Central Registry, where the living and the dead share the same shelf space. A middle-aged bachelor, he has no interest in anything beyond the certificates of birth, marriage, divorce, and death that are his daily routine. But one day, when he comes across the records of an anonymous young woman, something happens to him. Obsessed, Senhor José sets off to follow the thread that may lead him to the woman-but as he gets closer, he discovers more about her, and about himself, than he would ever have wished.

The loneliness of people's lives, the effects of chance, the discovery of love-all coalesce in this extraordinary novel that displays the power and art of José Saramago in brilliant form.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780156010597
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 10/05/2001
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 538,376
Product dimensions: 5.18(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.66(d)

About the Author

JOSÉ SARAMAGO (1922–2010) was the author of many novels, among them Blindness, All the Names, Baltasar and Blimunda, and The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. In 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

MARGARET JULL COSTA has established herself as the premier translator of Portuguese literature into English today.

Read an Excerpt

Above the door frame is a long narrow plaque of enamelled metal. The black letters set against a white background say Central Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths. Here and there the enamel is cracked and chipped. The door is an old door, the most recent layer of brown paint is beginning to peel, and the exposed grain of the wood is reminiscent of a striped pelt. There are five windows along the façade. As soon as you cross the threshold, you notice the smell of old paper. It's true that not a day passes without new pieces of paper entering the Registry, papers referring to individuals of the male sex and of the female sex who continue to be born in the outside world, but the smell never changes, in the first place, because the fate of all paper, from the moment it leaves the factory, is to begin to grow old, in the second place, because on the older pieces of paper, but often on the new paper too, not a day passes without someone inscribing it with the causes of death and the respective places and dates, each contributing its own particular smells, not always offensive to the olfactory mucous membrane, a case in point being the aromatic effluvia which, from time to time, waft lightly through the Central Registry, and which the more discriminating noses identify as a perfume that is half rose and half chrysanthemum.

Immediately beyond the main entrance is a tall, glazed double door, through which one passes into the enormous rectangular room where the employees work, separated from the public by a long counter that seamlessly joins the two side walls, except for a movable leaf at one end that allows people in and out. The room is arranged, naturally enough, according to a hierarchy, but since, as one would expect, it is harmonious from that point of view, it is also harmonious from the geometrical point of view, which just goes to show that there is no insurmountable contradiction between aesthetics and authority. The first row of desks, parallel with the counter, is occupied by the eight clerks whose job it is to deal with the general public. Behind them is a row of four desks, again arranged symmetrically on either side of an axis that might be extended from the main entrance until it disappears into the rear, into the dark depths of the building. These desks belong to the senior clerks. Beyond the senior clerks can be seen the deputy registrars, of whom there are two. Finally, isolated and alone, as is only right and proper, sits the Registrar, who is normally addressed as "Sir."

The distribution of tasks among the various employees follows a simple rule, which is that the duty of the members of each category is to do as much work as they possibly can, so that only a small part of that work need be passed to the category above. This means that the clerks are obliged to work without cease from morning to night, whereas the senior clerks do so only now and then, the deputies very rarely, and the Registrar almost never. The continual state of agitation of the eight clerks in the front row, who have no sooner sat down than they get up again, and are always rushing from their desk to the counter, from the counter to the card indexes, from the card indexes to the archives, tirelessly repeating this and other sequences and combinations to the blank indifference of their superiors, both immediate and distant, is an indispensable factor in understanding how it was possible, indeed shamefully easy, to commit the abuses, irregularities and forgeries that constitute the main business of this story.

In order not to lose the thread in such an important matter, it might be a good idea to begin by establishing where the card indexes and the archives are kept and how they work. They are divided, structurally and essentially, or, put more simply, according to the law of nature, into two large areas, the archives and card indexes of the dead and the card indexes and archives of the living. The papers pertaining to those no longer alive are to be found in a more or less organised state in the rear of the building, the back wall of which, from time to time, has to be demolished and rebuilt some yards further on as a consequence of the unstoppable rise in the number of the deceased. Obviously, the difficulties involved in accommodating the living, although problematic, bearing in mind that people are constantly being born, are far less pressing, and, up until now, have been resolved in a reasonably satisfactory manner either by recourse to the physical compression of the individual files placed horizontally along the shelves, in the case of the archives, or by the use of thin and ultra-thin index cards, in the case of the card indexes. Despite the difficulty with the back wall mentioned above, the foresight of the original architects of the Central Registry is worthy of the highest praise, for they proposed and defended, in opposition to the conservative opinions of certain mean-minded, reactionary individuals, the installation of five massive floor-to-ceiling shelves placed immediately behind the clerks, the central bank of shelves being set further back, one end almost touching the Registrar's large chair, the ends of the two sets of shelves along the side walls nearly flush with the counter, and the other two located, so to speak, amidships. Considered monumental and superhuman by everyone who sees them, these constructions extend far into the interior of the building, further than the eye can see, and at a certain point darkness takes over, the lights being turned on only when a file has to be consulted. These are the shelves that carry the weight of the living. The dead, or, rather, their papers, are located still further inside, in somewhat worse conditions than respect should allow, which is why it is so difficult to find anything when a relative, a notary or some agent of the law comes to the Central Registry to request certificates or copies of documents from other eras. The disorganisation in this part of the archive is caused and aggravated by the fact that it is precisely those people who died longest ago who are nearest to what is referred to as the active area, following immediately on the living, and constituting, according to the Registrar's intelligent definition, a double dead weight, given that only very rarely does anyone take an interest in them, only very infrequently does some eccentric seeker after historical trifles appear. Unless one day it should be decided to separate the dead from the living and build a new registry elsewhere for the exclusive use of the dead, there is no solution to the situation, as became clear when one of the deputies had the unfortunate idea of suggesting that the archive of the dead should be arranged the other way around, with the remotest placed farthest away and the more recent nearer, in order to facilitate access, the bureaucratic words are his, to the newly deceased, who, as everyone knows, are the writers of wills, the providers of legacies, and therefore the easy objects of disputes and arguments while their body is still warm. The Registrar mockingly approved the idea, on condition that the proposer should himself be the one responsible, day after day, for heaving towards the back of the building the gigantic mass of individual files pertaining to the long since dead, in order that the more recently deceased could begin filling up the space thus recovered. In an attempt to wipe out all memory of his ill-fated, unworkable idea, and also to distract himself from his own humiliation, the deputy felt that his best recourse was to ask the clerks to pass him some of their work, thus offending against the historic peace of the hierarchy, above as much as below. After this episode, the state of neglect grew, dereliction prospered, uncertainty multiplied, so much so that one day, months after the deputy's absurd proposal, a researcher became lost in the labyrinthine catacombs of the archive of the dead, having come to the Central Registry in order to carry out some genealogical research he had been commissioned to undertake. He was discovered, almost miraculously, after a week, starving, thirsty, exhausted, delirious, having survived thanks to the desperate measure of ingesting enormous quantities of old documents which neither lingered in the stomach nor nourished, since they melted in the mouth without requiring any chewing. The head of the Central Registry, who, having given the man up for dead, had already ordered the imprudent historian's record card and file to be brought to his desk, decided to turn a blind eye to the damage, officially attributed to mice, and immediately issued an internal order making it obligatory, at the risk of incurring a fine and a suspension of salary, for everyone going into the archive of the dead to make use of Ariadne's thread.

It would, however, be unfair to forget the problems of the living. It has long been known that death, either through innate incompetence or a duplicity acquired through experience, does not choose its victim according to length of life, a fact which, moreover, let it be said in passing, and if one is to believe the words of the innumerable philosophical and religious authorities who have pronounced on the subject, has, indirectly and by different and sometimes contradictory routes, had a paradoxical effect on human beings, and has produced in them an intellectual sublimation of their natural fear of dying. But, returning to the matter at hand, no one could ever accuse death of having left behind in the world some forgotten old man of no particular merit and for no apparent reason merely for him to grow ever older. We all know that, however long old people may last, their hour will always come. Not a day passes without the clerks having to take down files from the shelves of the living in order to carry them to the shelves at the rear, not a day passes without them having to push towards the end of the shelves those that remain, although sometimes, by some ironic caprice of enigmatic fate, only until the following day. According to the so-called natural order of things, reaching the farthest end of the shelf means that fate has grown weary, that there is not much more road to be travelled. The end of the shelf is, in every sense, the beginning of the fall. However, there are files which, for some unknown reason, hover on the very edge of the void, impervious to that final vertigo, for years and years beyond what is conventionally deemed to be a sensible length for a human life. At first those files excite the professional curiosity of the clerks, but soon a feeling of impatience begins to stir in them, as if the shameless obstinacy of these Methuselahs were reducing, eating and devouring their own life prospects. These superstitious clerks are not entirely wrong, if we bear in mind the many cases of employees at every level whose files had to be prematurely withdrawn from the archive of the living, while the covers of the files of those obstinate survivors grew yellower and yellower, until they became dark, inaesthetic stains at the end of a shelf, an offence to the public eye. That is when the Registrar says to one of the clerks, Senhor José, replace those covers for me, will you.

Table of Contents

Title Page,
Reading Group Guide,
About the Author,

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"A psychological, even metaphysical thriller that will keep you turning the pages in spite of yourself, and with growing alarm and alacrity."-The Seattle Times
"A novel that reminds readers how much loneliness can be like death. . . . Saramago is one of the best."
-Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times
"Within the first few pages, Saramago establishes a tension that sings on the page, rises, produces stunning revelations and culminates when the final paragraph twists expectations once again."-Publishers Weekly
"From the beginning, Saramago is in perfect control of the narrative, and the result is a tour de force."-Denver Post PRAISE FOR BLINDNESS
"Blindness is a shattering work by a literary master."
-The Boston Globe
"This is an important book, one that is unafraid to face all the horrors of the century."-The Washington Post
"Extraordinarily nuanced and evocative . . . This year's most propulsive, and profound, thriller."-The Village Voice

Reading Group Guide

1. How do the Central Registry's hierarchy of authority and the operating procedures reflect those of institutions, groups, and other bureaucracies with which you are familiar? In what ways might they be said to represent the structure and workings of society itself?

2. Including "the labyrinthine catacombs of the archive of the dead," (5) what labyrinths and mazes-external and internal-appear in the novel? What purpose do they serve? How do Senhor José and others navigate them? What perils and rewards are associated with them?

3. In what way does Senhor José's accidental possession and examination of the card belonging to a woman of thirty-six bring him "face-to-face with destiny"? (25) What attracts him to this specific card and its person? How does that "destiny" subsequently unfold? How might he have changed his destiny in this regard?

4. Senhor José's ceiling-"the multiple eye of God"-doesn't believe his claim that he paid a nighttime visit to the street where the unknown woman was born, "Because what you say you did doesn't fit with my reality and what doesn't fit with my reality doesn't exist." (31) How does this notion that objective reality depends on conformity to an individual's perceived reality recur through All the Names?

5. How do fear, timidity, and anxiety affect Senhor José's thinking and behavior? What enables him to overcome his mild manners, timidity, and anxieties and act deceptively and-in some instances-with despotic authority, much like the Registrar?

6. What roles do chance and coincidence play in Senhor José's endeavors? To what degree is he aware of the importance of chance and coincidence? What does the narrator have tosay about the part they play in all our lives?

7. In what ways, and why, do Senhor José's endeavors soil and bruise both his body and his spirit? Why might the sullying and bruising be necessary stages in his progress? When he looks at himself in the school bathroom mirror, Senhor José is surprised at his filthy state. "It doesn't even look like me, he thought, and yet he had probably never looked more like himself." (91-92) In what ways might this be so?

8. The narrator refers to Senhor José's "highly efficient deductive mechanism." (84) What instances are there of that mechanism at work? How do Senhor José's powers of deduction serve him well, especially in light of his physical and emotional frailties? In what instances do those powers fail him, and why?

9. What comprises the "knowledge of the night, of shadows, obscurity and darkness" that Senhor José has acquired over the years and "that makes up for his natural timidity"? (87) What kinds of obscurity and darkness occur in All the Names, and how does Senhor José deal with them? What internal and external darknesses must he cope with? What sources of light can he draw on to illuminate the internal darkness, on the one hand, and the external darkness, on the other?

10. Why does the Registrar suddenly begin to show concern for, and act on behalf of, Senhor José's well-being, and subsequently take unprecedented actions to transform the hidebound structure and operations of the Central Registry? To what extent is Senhor José responsible for this shocking transformation in the Registrar himself?

11. "Meaning and sense were never the same thing," writes Saramago; "meaning shows itself at once, direct, literal, explicit,...while sense cannot stay still, it seethes with second, third and fourth senses, radiating out in different directions that divide and subdivide...." (112) How might this digression on meaning and sense characterize both Senhor José's experience and Saramago's technique as a novelist? What shifting patterns of meaning and sense occur throughout All the Names?

12. When Senhor José returns to work after recovering from the flu, the Registrar solemnly declares, "Loneliness, Senhor José,... never made for good company, all the great sadnesses, great temptations and great mistakes are almost always the result of being alone in life..." (117) What sadnesses, temptations, and mistakes has Senhor José's loneliness occasioned? In what way are they transformed or reinforced by his quest? How does Saramago present the conflict between withdrawal, isolation, and loneliness, on the one hand, and connection and relationship, on the other?

13. How does the Registrar interpret what he calls "the double absurdity of separating the dead from the living," (176) and what are the implications of his explanation of the two absurdities? What other interpretations of that double absurdity are possible?

14. What is the significance that the General Cemetery is entered "via an old building with a façade which is the twin sister of the Central Registry façade"? (180) In what way do other historical, organizational, and administrative details establish a correspondence between the General Cemetery and the Central Registry? In what ways do the two institutions differ?

15. What would you say is, finally, "the essence of the strange adventure into which chance" has plunged Senhor José? (200)

16. In what instances and in what ways do truths become lies and lies become truths, in All the Names? Why does the distinction between truth and lie seem at times so insubstantial? How might the transformations between truth and lie be related to the transformations between life and death?

17. What is the significance of Senhor José's dream in which he finds himself in the cemetery, where sheep continually change numbers, a voice repeatedly calls, "I'm here," and the sheep disappear leaving the ground strewn with numbers "all attached end to end in an uninterrupted spiral of which he himself was the centre"? (208-209) In what ways is Senhor José himself the center and the objective of his search? In his search for the unknown woman, how does Senhor José come closer and closer to finding his own true self?

18. We are told that Senhor José, as he postpones entering the unknown woman's apartment building, "both wants and doesn't want, he both desires and fears what he desires, that is what his whole life has been like." (228-229) What patterns of wanting and not wanting, of desiring and fearing have emerged during the several days through which we have followed Senhor José in his quest? What other personal contradictions has he exhibited?

19. What does the unknown woman ultimately represent for Senhor José, for Saramago, and for us? Why, even when Senhor José has her faculty card before him, have we not learned her name?

20. What interpretations might be given of our final view of Senhor José, tying the end of Ariadne's thread around his ankle and setting off into the darkness?

Copyright (c) 2001. Published in the U.S. by Harcourt, Inc.
The discussion questions were prepared by Hal Hager & Associates, Somerville, New Jersey.

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All the Names 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 41 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having read Saramago's other masterpiece, Blindness, I felt compelled to read other works of his. This novel did not disappoint me in the least. The beginning wets the brain with a taste of Kafka's The Trial but later grows into something much it's own, stunning with the intricate eccentricties of one man consumed by a life and by the concept of death. A thought provoking story that is enertaining and intriguing.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There are not enough stars in the universe to give this book its proper rating........
Guest More than 1 year ago
i have been a fan of saramago since blindness and find that, once again, he has not let the reader down. in his lyrical writing style, he tells the story of senhor jose (perhaps, he is speaking of himself?) a lonely and somewhat pathetic man who embarks upon, probably the biggest adventure of his life. it is a story of love, of death, of desire, or rebellion, of coming to terms with all of these things. i really loved it and recommend it to anyone. it's not that big, but it's very deep.
AdamZ1 More than 1 year ago
My second favorite Saramago novel, after BLINDNESS. This one is more limited in scope, but powerfully moving all the same.
Tennesseedog More than 1 year ago
This is another brillant human portrayal by this very talented Portuguese writer. He captures the essence of a person's life that may speak to multitudes of us out there. It is another raw and exposing rip into the layers of humanity that many of us would rather not see revealed. His writing is precise and poignant and forever filled with unexpected occurrences. Take the time to read this work and be in a world created by a Master Wordsmith.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm lucky I read him in portuguese,but this english translation is realy excellent.Parabens!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book, 'All the Names' is a beautiful and poetic story of Senhor Jose and his noble quest to find out more about a mysterious woman. Working in the Central Registry, where the cards of the living and dead are kept, Jose encounters by chance the card of a woman whom from then on he decides to learn more about. The book itself is alluring. It's not in your standard fiction format. Dialogue is at a minimum and one is able to peer deeply inside the mind of Jose and the ways he thinks. However different the format is, it has twice the impact. It's a must buy and a must read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
All the Names is a quiet story full of bravery at the level of a whisper. Is Senhor Jose paranoid and delusional or merely the product of a restrained life seeking at last adventure? The journey brings him closest to the least expected of the characters. The stream of consciousness prose makes me know Senhor Jose is human, alive and normal. I felt this translation was amazing and artistic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Saramago leaves a trail of string, leading readers through of a labyrinth of human emotion. Senhor Jose is an unusual, seemingly pathetic character whose bizarre actions put him in the most bizarre places. A great translation but All the Names is a bit lower than Blindness on the literary ladder; it hits more like a middle-weight moving up the ranks than an established heavy-weight prizefighter.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Saramango is an excelent writer (simply awsome), I wish nothing else so deeply as to learn portuguise and read this book in Its original form. I read the version in Spanish and must say I was not impressed. This woman translator is the best I have ever read. And not taking to much credit from Saramango, I wish to congratulate Ms. Jull Costa for he OUTSTANDING, SHORT OF INCREDIBLE TRANSLATION OF THIS MASTERPEICE. THANK YOU !!! By the way, for all you Saramango adicts, he just published his second book after winning the Nobel prize. Saddly It's not translated yet, I hope Jull does the job, please? please? please? cya guys latter,
browner56 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Senhor José, a low-level functionary in the Civil Registry of Births, Marriages and Deaths, lives the epitome of a mundane existence. His days are spent recording basic facts of other people¿s lives in a soulless environment where such information has been chronicled for centuries. He spends his nights alone preparing for work the next day. The only break from this monotony comes from his surreptitious hobby of assembling private files on the country¿s most famous people. This diversion leads to unauthorized, after-hours raids into the Registry, where he accidentally comes across the file of an unknown woman. His obsession with finding out as much as he can about this person changes the course of his life and frames much of the story.Although neither lengthy nor seemingly complicated, I found this to be a challenging book to read. Much of that has to do with the author¿s writing style, which is quite atmospheric and laden with metaphors, such as the Ariadne¿s thread that Registry employees use to keep from getting lost in the archives. Further, Saramago makes playful use of punctuation, to say the least, which takes some getting used to. None of this leads to fast, breezy reading experience¿it took me about twice as long to digest the novel as I figured it would¿but it was also one that created images and ideas that are likely to stay with me for awhile.This is the second of the author¿s novels that I¿ve read, the other being his magnificent and harrowing ¿Blindness.¿ A central theme in both is how human beings cope with seclusion, whether unexpectedly thrust on them or carefully structured into their lives. In ¿All the Names,¿ this premise is underscored in a very interesting way: despite the book¿s title and the nature of the Registry¿s work, Senhor José is the only character that is ever mentioned by name. Saramago truly was a masterful writer and story-teller, but then, as his Nobel Prize attests, I¿m not the first person to realize that!
jwhenderson on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
All The Names is the story of a middle-aged civil servant named Senhor Jose, who works as a clerk in the Central Registry for births, marriages and deaths. He is the only person named in the story¿all the remaining characters in the novel are referred to by their titles or descriptions: The Registrar, the woman in the apartment, and so on. It is an interesting literary device, given the title of the book, but not surprising if you read this as an allegory. Senhor Jose, still a bachelor in his fifties, lives a quiet life with no social life, or family to visit. At his work and the hierarchical structure and discipline of the institution does not allow for personal exchanges of any kind. He has spent a lifetime alongside co-workers that know nothing significant about him. In order to maintain a connection with humanity, he clips articles out of newspapers and magazines and keeps his own personal registry of stranger¿s lives. He secretly cross-checks his files with those of the official labyrinth files at the Central Registry. One day the filing card of ¿an unknown woman¿ sticks to the other files he has surreptitiously borrowed for his hobby. The file of the unknown woman begins to haunt his life. In response he steps out of his lonely existence to try to track her down and , in doing so he becomes a sleuth and a forger and much more. The tension through the novel builds as we begin to learn more about the unknown woman and this tension exhibits itself in Senhor Jose, who comes under the suspicion of his boss. The remainder of the novel takes on a Proustian stream-of-consciousness internal monologue with the reader drifting in a sort of haze of metaphor and allegory that is the most beautiful consequence of this novel. It has been compared to a Kafkaesque experience.
Clara53 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I think Jose Saramago is a master of human psychology.
SheWoreRedShoes on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Saramago¿s novels often feature structural elements common to various genre fiction. Some novels have elements of historical fiction, like his Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, or fantastical allegory, like The Stone Raft. In this respect, Saramago¿s All the Names is no different, as it reads much like a detective or mystery novel. Interestingly enough, Saramago has refused a basic feature of much detective and mystery fiction: the fast pacing page-turner, consumed like so many tortilla chips in one night. For the most prominent motif of this novel is waiting. And waiting. The protagonist, a clerk in the Civil Registry of Births, Marriages, and Deaths, is mired in, as you might imagine, a bleak life of toil in the bureaucratic nightmare of managing civil records. He is much like the famous Bartleby. And the grimness of the records office¿with its pristine and insane order, rules, and procedures, and dusty shelves of disintegrating paper documents¿seems to doom him to a dismal life indeed. Except, unlike Bartleby, our records clerk has a secret and devious¿if not criminal¿hobby: he periodically removes records on famous and infamous persons, in order to build his own private file of records and have some excitement in his otherwise unremarkable life. The Bartleby-waiting pattern our clerk is mired in breaks open with his accidental lifting of a record of an ordinary person¿an unknown ordinary woman. Thus begins the end of waiting for our clerk: he now has an obsession to know about this ordinary woman. He wants to rescue her from a life of obscurity, even if it means that she will only become known to him. The clerk¿s obsession propels the novel forward and as a reader, you cheer his boldness in the face of danger, you cheer his will in finding what he can about this woman, you cheer his determination as a researcher. The clerk begins to make irrational decisions¿decisions based only on his new-found passion¿and he begins to take actions: he ventures out into rainstorms, he knocks on strangers¿ doors, he breaks into a secondary school to search through even more records. Our clerk even calls in sick. The period of waiting, of a static and totally predictable existence, has ended for our clerk: he has embarked upon the gloriousness of living. In seeking to rescue the unknown woman from obscurity, he has stumbled upon a way to rescue himself.
TomSlee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The book is slow-moving and I was not in the mood for a slow-moving book. I think there is more going on here than I got from it. I'll read more of his - maybe at a time when I'm more attuned to his writing.
technodiabla on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
All the Names is my first Saramago read and I enjoyed it thoroughly. His writing style, themes, settings and characters here all reminded me of Franz Kafka's The Trial quite a bit. The story itself was very slowly paced, yet managed to still be suspenseful and mysterious. The themes were fairly esoteric and philosophical but you could choose to hurt your head pondering every metaphor or just read it to enjoy the basic story (or some combination). The ending lost me somewhat though-- I either didn't agree with it or didn't get it, not sure which.
AJBraithwaite on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A novel about archives, existence, obsession and control. The way that the dialogue was written was slightly hard work, but this story of Senhor José and his hunt for the unknown woman is gripping and creepy in turn.
vaellus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The basis of this novel is one of those maddening cliches of postmodern literature: Protagonist becomes obsessed with some unknown person (dead or alive), usually by chance, and begins investigating the person and putting together the details of said person's life. Saramago, however, manages to inject this hackneyed plot type with a freshness that keeps the book entertaining. There are faceless bureaucrats and the protagonist is a nobody clerk at the bottom of the hierarchy, but anyone who describes this novel as Kafkaesque gets detention.
lesliecon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I loved the meta-physical quality of the language in this novel. Saramago has become one of the my favorite writers.
EricaKline on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A Central Registry clerk traces the life of a random woman. Loneliness, love, and chance are key themes. The cards and data represent our selves. Lyrical and touching.
ReneTee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was the first Saramago book I read, and since then I have become a big fan. Saramago seems at first to be telling a light-hearted, almost absurd story, but suddenly one finds oneself immersed in a philosphical tale of language and being.
pabarrett on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read this a couple years ago and I loved teh pacing and the style.
Zmrzlina on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is my favorite read. There are two conversations with the ceiling I'd like to memorize. And perhaps on a fifth or sixth reading, I will.This story is about a man who works in a city registry who does his job day in and day out, following routines and regulations. Until the one day something breaks his routine, a stray card with the name of a woman. Something drives him to find out more about this woman and as he does so, routine and regulation become the enemy of discovery, as they always are but we so often forget to notice when they make things seem easier.
mattviews on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Senhor José's life is nothing but ordinary: in an unnamed city he works as a lowly clerk for the Central Registry of Births, Marriages and Death where the living and dead permanently share the same shelf in a single archive. In his early fifties, José has a laudable modesty of those who do not go around complaining about the voluminous workload befallen him. He attempts his work sedulously, with great precision and sense of responsibility, despite his suffering from vertigo caused by a fear of height when he climbs the ladder to access files on ceiling-to-floor shelves.Senhor José finds solace in collecting news clippings of the country's famous, notorious and elite. One night, seized by an impulse and despondence over the inadequacy of his collection, José scuttles across the threshold of the communicating door that parts his lodging from the Registry and pilfers from the file drawer five precious records cards of the famous people. No sooner has he finished copying carefully and returned the cards to their rightful places than he spots the extra card, the unwanted one that belongs to an unknown, ordinary woman. Until then José's tepid and quiet life is no longer the same as he becomes morbidly obsessed with this unknown woman.What follows is our protagonist's exhaustive (and somehow preposterous) quest for the unknown woman through the clues that trail behind from the record cards: her most recent address, her last records from school, her neighbor from 33 years ago, and her parents. His anxiety and curiosity for this unknown woman tightens the grip to the point he doesn't feel right to resign himself. The obsession of the search in no time takes its toll. It inevitably manifests in mistakes at work, in lack of attention, in wane of precision, in sudden bouts of drowsiness during the day. The Registrar deems such poor standard of work can only be justified by some grave illness. Little does the Registrar know that José's irrepressible trembling is not the result of illness but panic, as he has committed an offense against the ethics of the Registry-infringement of privacy and forgery of credentials.I'll most certainly leave the readers to learn the outcome of José's investigation. One common theme has surfaced in this novel. Like Saramago's other books such as Blindness, The Stone Raft and The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis, the notion of loneliness (isolation vs. connection) prevails and governs the shaping of Saramago's characters and the actions they take. José is a loner who only takes interest in people's birth certificate. Those whom he encounters and indebted upon, especially the woman who lives on the ground floor, suffers from loneliness as she purposely engages in a circuitous conversation with José since she has nobody to talk to. José's peers at work, who treats him with scornful commiseration, as they are jealous at the Registrar's unmerited favoritism toward José upon his recovery from illness, are lonely as well.A sound quote from the book has always resonated in my mind, "I don't believe one can show greater respect than to weep for a stranger." (205) All The Names evokes the moment of recognition in the lives of the living and dead. Through the search for this woman to whom José has neither a personal or sentimental attachment, Saramago evokes in us the unbeatable and redemptive power of compassion, something that surpasses life and death and the vast interval of time that separates us from the most remote dead.Saramago's writing is thought provoking as usual, richly marinated with philosophical overtones such as "[registry] routine presupposes unconscious certainty" and "we do not make decisions, decisions make us." (29) Throughout the book José engages in some importunate inner fantasy dialogues as well as conversation with the plaster ceiling. This book is not to be taken lightly. The richness and obscurity of the prose forbid you to rush through it but to let it seep through slowly. The s
Anonymous More than 1 year ago