'Let yourself be led by the child you were.' The Book of Exhortations Born in Portugal in 1922 in the tiny village of Azinhaga, José Saramago was only eighteen months old when he moved with his father and mother to live in a series of cramped lodgings in a working-class neighbourhood of Lisbon. Nevertheless, he would return to the village throughout his childhood and adolescence, its river landscape and olive groves seeping deep into his memory.
Shifting back and forth between Azinhaga and Lisbon, this touching book is a mosaic of memories, a gathering together of the fragmented recollections that make up the idea of one's youth. Lust, love, humiliation, aspiration - the raptures and miseries of childhood are beautifully captured: Saramago's grandparents bringing the weaker piglets into their bed to keep them warm; the young José proudly carrying his first balloon on a string, only to be mocked by two strangers as it empties of air, the shrivelled remains dragging behind him; his first encounter with literature as he listens entranced to a friend's mother reading out weekly instalments of Maria, the Fairy of the Forest, and the seven-year-old José doggedly teaching himself to read by deciphering articles in the daily newspaper brought home by his father.
Written with Saramago's characteristic wit and honesty, Small Memories traces the formation of an artist fascinated by words and stories from an early age and who emergd, against all the odds, as one of the world's most respected writers.