Portuguese writer Saramago dies at 87

Jose Saramago, who became the first Portuguese-language winner of the Nobel Literature prize although his popularity at home was dampened by his unflinching support for communism, blunt manner and sometimes difficult prose style, died yesterday.

Saramago, 87, died at his home in Lanzarote, one of Spain's Canary Islands, of multi-organ failure after a long illness, the Jose Saramago Foundation said. "The writer died in the company of his family, saying goodbye in a serene and placid way," the foundation said.

Saramago, an atheist, moved to the Canary Islands after a spat with the Portuguese government in 1992, following his work The Gospel According to Jesus Christ, considered by ministers to be offensive to Catholics.

His 1998 Nobel accolade was nonetheless widely cheered in his homeland after decades of the award eluding writers of a language used by 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.

Jose Socrates, Portuguese Prime Minister, said Saramago was "one of our great cultural figures and his disappearance has left our culture poorer".