Admirers of José Saramago may be curious about the 32-year wait for the English translation of his early novel, Levantado do Chão. British publishers often translate the earliest works of great writers last, a shrewd tendency if they don’t represent their author’s finest writing. But in the case of this novel, they’ve been missing a trick. Raised from the Ground is, in no loose sense of the term, Saramago’s seminal novel: stylistically, it represents the germination of the polyphonic prose for which the Portuguese Nobel Prize winner is renowned; more literally, it’s a novel about the physical and political landscapes of 20th-century agrarian Portugal, and their measly yield for the men and women who inhabited them. ‘God cannot be mocked,’ warns Galatians. ‘A man reaps what he sows.’ Saramago rises to the challenge in Raised from the Ground with all the acerbic satire on Church and State that we would expect from the self-proclaimed ‘anarcho-communist’.
Compared with the subversive allegories for which Saramago is best known, however, this is an unsophisticated story. Around the turn of the 20th century, on an inhospitable road in the pouring rain, we meet Domingos Mau-Tempo (Mr Bad-Weather to you and me), a cobbler and ne’er-do-well, as he carts his