Written by Portuguese author José Saramago in 2002. Tertuliano Máximo Afonso is the protagonist of a mental labyrinth which exhorts the reader to accompany him to get to the bottom of his identity.
A History teacher whose existence passes by in a monotonous daily life, one day finds out that there’s a man who looks just like him, living in the same city he spends his peaceful days.
The shock then, impels him in an obsessive way, to start out a searching in order to obtain his double’s identity: Antonio Claro, who seems to enjoy a more exciting life, he’s an actor.
Almost half of the book is allotted to an endless investigation where Tertuliano tries to get to meet Antonio. Inexplicably Tertuliano regards his double’s existence as an unwelcome intruder in his life, and even more incompressible is the fact that he is completely convinced that one of them has to disappear because there is no enough room for two equal people in this world. Therefore it is imperative to establish who was born first and who was born next, so as to identify who is the original and who is the impostor.
Tertuliano Máximo Afonso is a sensitive character with very particular criteria about personal identity and his life falls apart due to the single fact of having realized about the existence of someone else who has the same physical appearance as his own, from that moment on he will focus all his efforts on reaching this individual, since his life has lost all tranquility and serenity.
This way then, his research project aims at everything that leads to uncover his opponent's identity, and all this pursuit should be carried out without raising suspicions (Why is all that inordinate fear? We simply don’t know). Obsession is the predominant component of the book, it exceeds by far any other emotion or urgency the character might have throughout the whole story. Much of the book is spent on figuring out what will happen when these two titans finally confront each other.
Quite often, our character lacks the common sense needed to judge facts objectively, so it is usual to find unexpected and illogical reactions that don’t leave much to guess or to foretell his next move. The reader may fall into erroneous predictions that, along with the extensive reflections this guy usually has, about irrelevant issues from my point of view, can lead the story to a dead point where only boredom can be attained, and the feeling that the argument has diverted from its original route.
In my opinion the novel portrays a very compelling plot, and I would have liked to see more events that involved more interaction between the two characters or the impersonation of one another. It didn’t happen, or at least the way I expected it; instead the author imposes such an obsessive personality upon Máximo Afonso; so the book falls into endless and tiresome psychological dissertations on the identity crisis suffered by the character, in other words, most of the argument takes place in the protagonist’s mind rather than in reality. I must admit that on several occasions I had to force myself to resume the reading; it moves on so slowly that it becomes easy to lose interest.
Once you get over the first half of the book, the second one is perhaps the most interesting. The outcome is finally revealed and the reading flows more naturally. Unexpected events, illogical to some extent, come to happen and an unforeseen denouement culminates the book. The characters end up accepting an unusual reality that, in my opinion, causes a feeling of disorientation in the observer.