Every now and then, we just need a mental day off. Sometimes we indulge in them after a long work week, or when feeling sick. It’s been that kind of weekend here.
As a genealogist, I have a hard time escaping completely from my obsession. Many of my diversions hint at genealogy, including a good portion of my reading selections. I often choose mysteries, stories that delve into family connections, or those that explore an historical period.
Some of my favorites from a genealogist’s perspective were gifts, but others were found by chance. Bookstore browsing. Catching sight of an appealing cover. That is how I discovered All the Names.
The story involves one man’s quest. Sr. Jose, a records clerk, lives in a room behind the vital records office. His days consist of documenting births, marriages, and deaths. He secretly ventures into the archive after hours to collect information from records for a personal collection. He stumbles onto a document that causes him to become obsessed with an individual’s life. He sets out to solve the mystery he has discovered, and to some degree, created.
When I picked up this book and read the back cover blurb, I was hooked. The genealogist in me couldn’t resist a novel with a protagonist living in a room behind an office filled with vital records. Of course he’s going to sneak in after hours!
All the Names is the sort of book that I like to linger in, enjoying the prose. Literary style is a matter of personal taste. Some might dislike the style. I love reading sentences that I wish I had written.
I dug into boxes today, trying to find my copy of All the Names. Much of my fiction is boxed and waiting for the day that my dream library is a reality. Most are boxed somewhat alphabetically by author. Several boxes break that mold — the ones assembled in a hurry, after stacks of books reached a precarious height and needed to be put away. Mish-mosh.
All the Names eluded me today, and I am disappointed. I was hoping for that mental day off.
All the Names. José Saramago. Mariner Books, 2001. Translated by Margaret Jull Costa. 264 pp. Saramago, a Portuguese author, received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998. Paperback $13.48
I listened to a preview of the Audible version, a mistake after reading the book. The reader’s voice was nothing like the one I imagined narrating the story.