Saramago, Pamuk, Mahfouz and others: Language and location

Reading Leonor’s post on the José Saramago Archive prompts me to reflect on its wider implications.  The first thing to say is that it is splendid news that the Saramago Archive is going to find a devoted and fitting home in Lisbon, amongst all the landmarks celebrated in books like ‘The history of the siege of Lisbon’.

The fact that the papers of one of the truly great novelists of the twentieth century should end up in Portugal, without a big purchasing battle, gives cause to reflect especially on questions of “language and location”.  The work presently underway on Diasporic Literary Archives (see an earlier post on this blog) now indicates that there are really only four countries which regularly and actively collect the papers of writers from other countries.  These are the USA, the UK, Canada and France.  And none of those countries has any significant tradition of studying Portuguese language or literature.

Photograph of Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Image licensed under creative commons license. Source:

Excellent news about Saramago then.  What does it tell us when we think about the manuscripts of the other great novelists of the last part of the twentieth century?  My own list would start with Saramago and would always include Margaret Atwood, Samuel Beckett, Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Elfriede Jelinek, Doris Lessing, Naguib Mahfouz and Orhan Pamuk.  That personal list provides some interesting stories and some telling controversies from the world of modern literary manuscripts.

The purchase by Princeton University of the Carlos Fuentes Archive provoked front-page outrage in Mexico.  Similarly the proposed Sotheby’s sale of Naguib Mahfouz’s papers in December 2011 caused controversy in Egypt, and the sale was abandoned.  It seems that at least some of the family now want these papers to go to the American University in Cairo, or to another Cairo library.  Meanwhile the archive of Margaret Atwood is arriving in regular instalments at the University of Toronto, and Elfriede Jelinek seems to have the same sort of arrangement with the University of Vienna.  Samuel Beckett’s papers present a classic example of a “split collection” – being divided between the Universities of Reading and Texas and Trinity College Dublin.  Similarly, although some Doris Lessing papers have recently gone to the University of East Anglia, the bulk are divided between the Universities of Texas and Tulsa.

Photograph of Orhan Pamuk

Orhan Pamuk
Public domain photograph tagged as “Copyright free photo” on the author’s website – consult the web archive at for evidence.

Given that there is almost no interest in Turkish language and literature in the four big purchasing countries, there is every chance that the Orhan Pamuk Archive will stay in Istanbul, where it so obviously belongs.  It could be said that Pamuk is to Istanbul what Saramago is to Lisbon and Mahfouz to Cairo.  In 2012 Pamuk established a museum in Istanbul displaying his own novel ‘The Museum of Innocence’.  You can read the amazing story at

That leaves Gabriel García Márquez.  He is clearly a highly marketable author-commodity, and Spanish-language manuscripts are actively collected in the USA, not only by Princeton.  In November 2012, the first García Márquez manuscript to go on sale was auctioned at Christie’s, with a price guide between $80,000 and $127,000.  I don’t know what arrangements García Márquez may have written into his will (does anyone?), but it certainly seems unlikely that the main García Márquez Archive will end up in his native Colombia.

It is clear, in conclusion, that the language used by an author is a major factor in the eventual destination of their literary archive.

David Sutton
Chair / Président of SLA

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3 Responses to Saramago, Pamuk, Mahfouz and others: Language and location

  1. Pingback: Saramago, Pamuk, Mahfouz and others: Questions of language & location

  2. David Sutton says:

    In her excellent book ‘The ethical archivist’ (SAA, 2010), Elena S. Davidson proposes three models of cultural property ownership: the free market model, the nationalist model, and the regulated model. I think these are good distinctions, with the free market model operating in the USA, the nationalist model in China and Russia, and versions of the regulated model in most western European countries. As indicated in this post, however, the question of language is primary. The free market does not operate, even in the USA, in Portuguese-language or Turkish-language manuscripts.


  3. Pingback: Digitisation of the Gabriel García Márquez archive | Literary & Artistic Archives

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