Mau-Tempo means “bad weather” in Portuguese.
Mau-Tempo is also the last name of the family whose lives we follow for many years in 20th century Portugal.
Bad weather is certainly a suitable way to describe the difficult times this family of uneducated farm laborers lived through. Miserable times, to be exact.
That’s not a spoiler – it’s pretty obvious from an early stage of the book.
But the magic that kept me reading from cover to cover is the manner in which the tale is told. Saramago wrote about the type of people he grew up with. He combines an intimate knowledge of details regarding every aspect of their life with sympathy and warmth , creating a sense for me of having watched these people in a movie, they feel so real.
Saramago’s telling includes beauty and even humor in this tale of woe, with unique metaphors and vivid descriptions.
The author tells this story from different points of view, moving seamlessly, (sometimes in the same sentence!) from one character to the other. This feat particularly blew me away. There’s an escalating dialogue between a group of hungry local men, trying to strike in order to get a slight raise, and a group of desperate workers that have come farther away, eager to take their place no matter how bad the conditions are. This entire confrontation scene shifts constantly from words spoken by one side to the counter-arguments of the other side, yet is all perfectly clear. Words such as “he said” “they replied” are not used in this book.
This is one of Saramago’s earliest books but was translated into English after he won a Nobel Prize and passed away. The politics are clear and his indignation raw. No message is shrouded in allegory. I understand that publishers didn’t think a translation of this book would sell well – a mix of his trademark slow, run-on sentences with politics.
I’m glad it was translated.
I’m glad I read it.