The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis

Title: The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis – A Concise Summary

Author: José Saramago
Publish Date: 1984 (English translation: 1991)
Genre: Historical Fiction
Page Length: Approximately 464 pages (may vary in different editions)


“The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis,” written by renowned author José Saramago, takes place in 1936 Lisbon, Portugal, during the period of authoritarian rule by António de Oliveira Salazar. This novel explores themes of existentialism, mortality, and the intricacies of life through its enigmatic characters and rich storytelling.

The story revolves around a fictional character named Ricardo Reis, a heteronym created by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. Following the death of his creator, Reis finds himself transported to Lisbon after living in Brazil for sixteen years. As the novel progresses, readers witness the protagonist’s introspective journey encompassing one year of his life.

Chapter 1: Arrival in Lisbon, December 30, 1935
The novel begins with Reis arriving at the hotel Bragança in Lisbon, where he plans to stay. Through his internal monologue, readers delve into Reis’s contemplation of life, death, and his relationships with others. The section ends with Reis encountering a fellow hotel guest, Dr. Marques, who shares the news of Fernando Pessoa’s death.

Chapter 2: January 1-7, 1936
Reis continues his stay at the hotel, becoming acquainted with the concierge, Adriana, and other guests. He establishes a routine that involves visits to cafés, long walks, and visits to Pessoa’s grave. Reis engages in philosophical discussions with friend and writer, Manuel, often pondering their limited understanding of life.

Chapter 3: January 8-31, 1936
Reis encounters Marcenda, a mysterious woman who seems to be connected to a revolutionary group. Their interactions become more frequent, with Reis increasingly fascinated by her. Simultaneously, he receives letters from Luisa, a former lover, and engages in contemplative conversations with Dr. Marques about the nature of mortality.

Chapter 4: February 1-24, 1936
Reis continues his conversations with Dr. Marques, delving into topics such as fascism, free will, and the absurdity of existence. He also discovers that Marcenda has left the hotel, further intriguing him. Reis receives a letter from a childhood friend, Joãozinho, explaining his deteriorating health. This news leads Reis to reflect on the transience of life.

Chapter 5: February 25-March 19, 1936
As Reis visits Joãozinho’s bedside, the stark reality of his friend’s declining health forces him to confront his own mortality. He begins to question his beliefs and finds solace in literature, particularly works by Luís de Camões. Marcenda briefly reappears, hinting at her involvement in political activities. Reis’s encounters with her continue to intrigue him, though her purpose remains unclear.

Chapter 6: March 20-April 9, 1936
Reis contemplates his connection to Portugal and his troubled relationship with his homeland. His fascination with Marcenda deepens, but her evasiveness leaves him filled with longing and uncertainty. Reis’s friendship with Dr. Marques also undergoes a transformation, as the doctor reveals his own conflicted feelings toward life and mortality.

Chapter 7: April 10-May 16, 1936
Political unrest in Portugal becomes increasingly prominent, with rumors of an imminent coup d’état. Reis encounters Marcenda once more, sharing a passionate and intimate evening together. However, her sudden departure leaves him devastated and desperate for answers. Reis’s reflection on love, politics, and isolation deepens as the year draws to a close.

The novel ultimately culminates with Ricardo Reis accepting the transience of life and embracing his mortality. José Saramago’s masterful storytelling intertwines philosophical musings, political upheaval, and complex characters to prompt readers to ponder their own existence.

“The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis” remains significant due to its exploration of the human condition, existential themes, and its skillful blending of reality and fiction. Through Saramago’s profound narrative, readers are invited to reflect on the complexities of life as they accompany Reis on his personal journey of self-discovery.