In an unnamed country on the first day of the new year, people stop dying. Amid the general public, there is great celebration: flags are hung out on balconies and people dance in the streets. They have achieved the great goal of humanity - eternal life. Death is on strike.
Soon, though, the residents begin to suffer. For several months undertakers face bankruptcy, the church is forced to reinvent its doctrine, and local 'maphia' smuggle those on the brink of death over the border where they can expire naturally.
Death does return eventually, but with a new, courteous approach - delivering violet warning letters to her victims. But what can death do when a letter is unexpectedly returned?
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In the craft of the sentence, José Saramago is one of the great originals... no one writes quite like Saramago, so solicitous and yet so magnificently free. He works as though cradling a thing of magic - Guardian
Saramago has a light, graceful, ironic touch... the paraphernalia of magical realism -
The author's eccentric voice is as engaging as ever... a fitting cap to a body of work as playful as it is wise - Financial Times
With characteristic dry wit he proceeds to debunk the rosy romance of eternal life - The Times
A compelling work by a fine writer ... the unique Saramagoan style ... gives the impression of a thought experiment to which the writer is merely a catalyst. That impression is a carefully crafted one: true art conceals its art, wrote Ovid - New Statesman
This is a beautifully constructed novel, the tone detached, ironic and playful, perfectly maintained throughout - The Scotsman
A fable-like tale which tips our world on its axis ... a beautiful book, which narrows down with elegance and assurance from wide-screen satire to a deeply strange love story, all the time probing the human condition with gentle compassion - Metro
A genial mix of satire, fantasy and the comically prosaic - Financial Times
I wish more novelists writing in English exhibited this much intellectual ambition, and this much humanity and elegance in realising it - The Guardian
José Saramago was one of the most important international writers of thelast hundred years. Born in Portugal in 1922 in the small rural village of Azinhaga, he was in his fifties when he came to prominence as a writer with the publication of Baltasar and Blimunda. A huge body of work followed, which included plays, poetry, short stories, non-fiction and over a dozen novels, translated into more than forty languages, and in 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He died in June 2010.