All the Names

After an evening listening to translator Margaret Jull Costa read to the California Book Club, surrounded by books and nestled in a comfy red leather chair with wine in hand, I picked up what she claimed was her favorite book by Saramago, All the Names. It’s been awhile since I’ve been swept up in delirious delicious bits of phrasing and story, and almost needed Ariadne’s thread to lead me through this labyrinth.
The simple yet complex tale of Senhor José, clerk in the Central Registry responsible for filing birth and death announcements, who lives in a house attached to the Registry and who has a key to enter the Registry during off-hours. One day, he gives in to his desire to sneak into the Registry to pull the cards of all the celebrities whose clippings he saves in a closet. On this quest, he discovers the card of a non-celebrity, an unknown woman, and becomes obsessed with the quest to discover more information about her, taking more and more risks, breaking into a school, conquering his fear of heights, talking to her godmother (who lived on the 1st floor of the building she was born in), eventually finding out about her death, visiting her grave and sleeping in the cemetery only to be awoken by a shepherd and his flock of sheep who confessed to moving the graves around. As a last resort, he contacts the girl’s parents, her mother slips Jose the keys to the daughter’s apartment, lets him poke around looking for answers.
Beautiful, dreamy, great translation by Costa.