Nobel Prize-winning author José Saramago died Friday at the age of 87. Saramago died at his home in the Canary Islands after a long illness. In 1998, he became the first Portuguese-language winner of the Nobel Literature prize.

Jose Saramago

Jose Saramago

José Saramago’s first novel was published when he was 23, but received little attention in the literary world. It wasn’t until 30 years later that he first won international acclaim with his second novel, Baltasar and Blimunda, a love story set in the 18th century. His works were often infused with magic realism, blending fantastical elements into an otherwise realistic setting.

Saramago courted controversy throughout his life, both in his political views and literary themes. He was an unabashed communist and atheist who once compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to the Holocaust.

His novel, The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, outraged many in the Catholic community for its representation of Jesus as a flawed human being who apologized to humanity for God’s sins while he was being crucified. The novel was blocked from contention for the European Literary Prize in 1992 by the Portuguese government. Saramago responded to this censorship of his work by moving to the Spanish Canary Islands, where he lived until his death.

José Saramago’s 2005 novel Blindness, about a city of people suddenly going blind, was adapted to film in 2008. Written by Don McKellar, the film was helmed by Oscar-nominated director Fernando Meirelles and starred Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo. Saramago originally refused to sell the film adaption rights, but eventually relented on the condition that the plot revolve around an anonymous city as it does in the book.

Blindness received mixed reviews from critics and was condemned by several organizations representing the blind community. The American Council of the Blind said the film was deplorable for portraying blind people “like uncivilized, animalized creatures.” Saramago responded to the controversy by stating: “Stupidity doesn’t choose between the blind and the non-blind.”

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