LISBON, Portugal — Jose Saramago became the first Portuguese-language winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, but his popularity at home was dampened by his unflinching support for communism, blunt manner and sometimes difficult prose style.
Saramago, 87, died Friday at his home in Lanzarote, one of Spain's Canary Islands, of multi-organ failure after a long illness, the Jose Saramago Foundation said.
Saramago was an outspoken man who antagonizedmany. He moved to the Canary Islands after a public spat in 1992 with the Portuguese government, which he accused of censorship.
His 1998 Nobel accolade was nonetheless widely cheered in his homeland. For decades the award had eluded writers of a language used by about 170 million people around the world.
Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates said Saramago was "one of our great cultural figures and his disappearance has left our culture poorer."
Born Nov. 16, 1922, in the town of Azinhaga near Lisbon, Saramago was raised in the capital. From a poor family, he never finished university but continued to study part time while supporting himself as a metalworker.
Acclaim came late
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."
The story, set during the Inquisition, explores the battle between individuals and organized religion. A recurring theme in Saramago is the loner struggling against authority.
Saramago often found himself going against the tide of popular opinion. He disagreed with Portugal's membership in the European Union, although Portugal's people approved overwhelmingly.
From the 1980s Saramago was one of Portugal's best-selling contemporary writers, and his works have been translated into more than 20 languages.