This is Saramago’s allegorical rumination on bureaucratic folly. His “Central Registry” appartchik speaks of documents, records of the dead, that “melt in the mouth without requiring any chewing.” Paperwork is the main meal, an oppression that assists Saramago in diagramming the human condition.
Clerk Senhor José, like many Saramago characters, is a forlorn soul without family ties. In the “suffocating” records — and here is the irony — he involves himself in one woman’s past. The detective work (“the strange adventure into which chance had plunged him”) yields his humanity.
Nothing in the world makes any sense, Saramago suggests, except what happens during the search for sense itself. Never easy, Nobel-winner Saramago is always rewarding.