The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis

The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis
The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis  
1st US edition
Author(s) José Saramago
Original title O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis
Country Portugal
Language Portuguese
Publisher Houghton Mifflin (US)
Publication date 1984

The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (in Portuguese: O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis) is a 1984 novel by Portuguese novelist José Saramago, the winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in literature. It tells the story of the final year in the life of the title character, Ricardo Reis, one of the many heteronyms used by the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa.

In the novel, Ricardo Reis returns to his native Lisbon from Brazil, upon receiving word of Pessoa's death. While there, he chooses not to resume his practice of medicine, but rather takes up residence in a hotel where he wastes his days reading newspapers and wandering the streets of Lisbon.

The novel was translated into English in 1993 and won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.[1]


The novel addresses several powerful literary themes, but most of them indirectly. For instance, Reis reads of the events leading to the Spanish Civil War, and he sees floods of Spanish immigrants arrive in Lisbon seeking refuge, but he himself never expresses strong feelings or even a cogent understanding of the meaning of the conflict.

Reis also carries on a lackluster love affair, but even in what seem to be his most intimate relationships, he is continually and voluntarily alienated from society. The most revealing glimpse of Reis is in a series of conversations with the spirit of Fernando Pessoa, over the course of which Reis loses a clear concept of the nature of life and death and the difference between the two.

In the novel's final scene, Reis "dies" by calmly putting on his jacket and following Pessoa to the graveyard. Ultimately, it is a story of one man's attempt to resist any sort of cultural contextualization and reject any place in society whatsoever.

This book is also, in some sense, an exercise in meta-literature. Fernando Pessoa created the character of Ricardo Reis fifty years or more before this novel was written, giving him a biography and writing many poems in that name. That Saramago would place the two characters side by side suggests a deliberate blurring of the boundaries between fantasy and reality, a theme common in Saramago's work, and a rejection of traditional limitations on narrative practices. Interestingly, Reis spends much of his time reading a novel called The God of the Labyrinth, a fictional novel mentioned by Jorge Luis Borges and attributed to the title character of his short story "A Survey of the Works of Herbert Quain".


The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis is written in Saramago's distinctive style, in which he uses no punctuation except commas and periods, denoting dialogue and changes of speaker using only capital letters. He uses long, flowing sentences and paragraphs often several pages in length. Saramago also digresses from the story frequently, occasionally even in the first person, remarking philosophically on the significance of images, objects or situations encountered in the story. Saramago’s writing technique often has strong magical-realist elements.


  1. ^ "Books: Recommended". 14 August 1993. Retrieved 19 March 2011. 

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