Jose Saramago, who became the first Portuguese-language winner of the Nobel Literature prize after seeing his popularity at home dampened by his unflinching support for Communism, blunt manner and sometimes difficult prose style, has died at 87, his publisher said Friday.
Publisher Zeferino Coelho was quoted on the website of the Portuguese newspaper Publico as saying Saramago died at his home in Lanzarote, one of Spain's Canary Islands. Coelho said the author's health had worsened after a recent illness. It gave no further details.
Saramago was an outspoken man who antagonized many, and moved to the Canary Islands after a public spat with the Portuguese government in 1992.
His 1998 Nobel accolade was nonetheless widely cheered in his homeland after decades of the award eluding writers of a language used by some 170 million people around the world.
"People used to say about me, 'He's good but he's a Communist.' Now they say, 'He's a Communist but he's good,'" he said in a 1998 interview with The Associated Press.
International critical acclaim came late in his life, starting with his 1982 historical fantasy "Memorial do Convento," published in English in 1988 as "Baltasar and Blimunda."
'I don't go around smiling'
Saramago often found himself going against the tide of popular opinion. Portugal's membership of the European Union is overwhelmingly appreciated in his homeland, a country of 10.6 million people which despite EU development aid is still western Europe's poorest country.
Saramago, however, disagreed.
"First of all I'm Portuguese, then Iberian, and then, if I feel like it, I'm European," he once told the AP.
From the 1980s Saramago was one of Portugal's best-selling contemporary writers and his works have been translated into more than 20 languages.
But he never courted the kind of fame offered by literary prizes and his bluntness could sometimes offend.
"I am skeptical, reserved, I don't gush, I don't go around smiling, hugging people and trying to make friends," he once said.