He moved to the Canary Islands in 1998 after a spat with the Portuguese government concerning his novel The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, which many considered offensive to Catholics in its depicting a a flawed and very human Jesus. He also courted controversy as an unflinching supporter of communism.
Born into poverty in 1922 in a small village outside Lisbon, Saramago was largely self-educated. He never finished university but continued to study part time, supporting himself as a metal-worker. He's described by Helder Macedo, emeritus professor of Portuguese literature at Kings College London as :
... an avid reader (and) a voracious intellectual ... acquiring information as much as he could.He wrote his first novel when he was in his 20s, but left off writing fiction for many years because he said he had nothing to say and turned to journalism instead.
When his membership of the communist party cost him his job as a newspaper editor in 1974, he returned to writing fiction, now well into his 50's. He called himself :
... a belated writer.He wrote novels which tackled big themes and blended fact with fantasy and folklore. In Blindness, for example, he wrote about the whole population of a city losing its sight.
His 1982 novel, Baltasar and Blimunda, was the first to be widely translated,and to attract international attention. He won the Nobel in 1998.
Jose Socrates, Portuguese Prime Minister, has called Saramago one of Portugal's great cultural figures and said that his death had left the culture poorer.
NPR has an excellent piece on the author (which you can listen to as well). Carl Franzen on politicsdaily.com reveals five fascinating facts about his life. He is profiled too in The Globe and Mail.
Doubtless there will be any other tributes flooding in, and I will post links to them later below.