Books in Portuguese that Should Be Translated into English

When I decided to create this blog about books, I thought it a good idea to write it in English, although it is not my first language. I don’t regret that choice in the slightest, since it has allowed me to continue practising the language and to interact with fellow readers from all over the world. However, it has also a downside. Sometimes I mention books originally written in Portuguese that are not available in English and, thus, that the majority of you can’t read.

Today’s post will add to this conundrum, seeing that it’s exclusively about books that, to the best of my knowledge, haven’t yet been translated into English but should have. Some of these are available in other languages besides Portuguese, such as Spanish and French, though.

 

Livro by José Luís Peixoto

Set in part in the ‘60s, Livro delves into the Portuguese emigration to France through the story of a specific family. José Luís Peixoto uses more than words to tell this story, which emphasises how difficult it can be to achieve a better life. A circle drawn around particular words helps to convey an important plot point. ‘Livro’ means ‘book’ in Portuguese, and it is not only the title of this novel but also the name of a crucial character. Continue reading

‘Glister’ by John Burnside

My rating: 4 stars

Readers who always require a book to have a clear and definitive ending are probably not the target audience of Glister by John Burnside. It offers a thought-provoking combination of social commentary and atmospheric mystery, supplemented with a pinch of science fiction and magical realism. Through different points of view, we are told a story full of acts of cruelty and gory descriptions, while being reminded that destitution can destroy a community, in this case one that is also dealing with the disappearance of various young boys.

The first boy to disappear from the Innertown was Mark Wilkinson. He went to the poison wood with a couple of friends looking for the devil. When he went alone further into the woods, never to return, his friends were too scared to go look for him and just ran instead. Later on, Morrison, the only policeman in the town, found the boy suspended from a tree. His hands were bound, and it looked like he had been victim of some kind of sacrifice. He didn’t know what to do. He hadn’t become a policeman to solve murder cases. So, he called Brian Smith, who had helped him get the job, and his men got rid of the body.

Smith convinced Morrison to conceal the boy’s death. But in the following years, other boys went missing. Regarding those cases, Morrison doesn’t know what happened and is unaware of whether they are dead or alive. Deep down he is ashamed of himself, despite people not knowing that he didn’t tell the truth about Mark. The official line is that all of the boys left the Innertown of their own free will, looking for a better life somewhere else. While some people believe this story, others are suspicious. Some think that the boys were murdered and then buried in the ruins of the old chemical plant. Continue reading

Books Worth the Hype

Occasionally there is so much hype surrounding certain books that, instead of being confident that I will enjoy them, I become afraid of reading them. Books that attract a lot of attention, either after being heavily promoted by publishers or loved by many people in the bookish community, can, thus, remain on my shelves or wish list for a long time before I finally decide to pick them up. Some books I end up not understanding why they were so hyped, while others I fully recognise their merits.

Below are some of the books that, in my opinion, are worth all the previous hype around them. They were all written by contemporary authors, seeing that these are the ones that tend to be more publicised and that classics have already passed the test of time. I didn’t love all of them, but I definitely enjoyed them enough to recommend you reading them in case they sound like something you would like.

 

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

I became aware of Jessie Burton’s debut novel when it was released, seeing that it kept appearing on various book hauls on BookTube. I didn’t pay much attention to what it was about to be honest. But I knew that I wanted it on my shelves, because I had fallen in love with the gorgeous cover. This is obviously not the best reason to buy a book. Nonetheless, it ended up being a good acquisition, since I adored it when I finally read it. Continue reading

Monthly Favourites – October 2018

I normally try to choose a single favourite from among the books that I’ve read, the TV series that I’ve watched and, more unsuccessfully, the music that I’ve listened to during a specific month. However, as I was struggling to decided which book and TV series was my favourite from October, I ended up opting to allude to two of each. I enjoyed them almost equally, thus they truly deserve a mention in this instalment of my monthly favourites.

I’ve only read three books last month. And I say only, because I could have read more, if I had not spent around a week persevering through Freedom and Death by Nikos Kazantzakis just to end up not finishing it. But this post is about my favourites, and one of them is Tula by Jurgis Kuncinas. It tells the story of a man struggling with an alcohol addiction, while recollecting his love for Tula. Throughout the book, there are plenty of astonishingly beautiful passages that convey great emotion.

My other favourite book from the month of October is Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb. Mihály and Erzsi are a newlywed couple trying to come to terms with what they want from their lives. They married for opposing reasons, and Mihály is plagued by nostalgia for his youth. There are some genuinely funny moments and a great depiction of ambiances in various occasions. Continue reading

‘Journey by Moonlight’ by Antal Szerb

My rating: 4 stars

Set in the early 20th century, Journey by Moonlight by the Hungarian author Antal Szerb tells the story of a newlywed couple struggling to come to terms with their purpose in life. Were they supposed to conform to what society expected from them? Did they genuinely want to break away from the norm? Thirty-six-year-old Mihály, the main character, was finding it especially challenging to decide what to do, seeing that he was plagued by nostalgia for his youth.

Mihály and Erzsi went on a trip around Italy for their honeymoon. While in Venice, one night he decided to wander around the back-alleys alone. When he returned to the hotel, Erzsi was worried and asked him why he hadn’t told her where he was going and why he hadn’t taken her with him. He felt offended and resentful. But that was only the beginning of their disagreements. Erzsi, who had been married before to Zolfán Pataki, didn’t fully understand Mihály at first and was sure that he didn’t understand her neither, because he didn’t concern himself with the real feelings of others.

Their next destination was Ravenna. There they received an unexpected visit from János Szepetneki, one of Mihály’s old friends. During a cryptic conversation at the local piazza, he told Mihály that he had managed to trace Ervin’s whereabouts. This encounter encouraged Mihály to tell Erzsi about the deceased Tamás Ulpius. When he was young, Mihály suffered from various nervous symptoms. One of them was feeling and seeing a whirlpool on the ground near his feet. Once at Castle Hill in Budapest, Tamás helped him when the whirlpool effect was taking much longer to disappear than usual. Continue reading

Fernando Pessoa in the Work of Other Authors

Fernando Pessoa is one of the most iconic names in Portuguese literature. All over Lisbon we can find many depictions of him wearing his legendary black fedora hat and somewhat rounded glasses. While some tourists are not familiar with the writer and thus pass by the tributes to his genius obliviously, others make sure to visit ‘Casa Fernando Pessoa’ and to take pictures near his statues. Born in 1888, he was a modernist writer who came up with the concept of ‘heteronyms’ – different voices with their own biographies and writing styles. He also served as inspiration for various artists, including painters and other renowned authors. José Saramago and Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen are among those he inspired.

In O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis) by José Saramago, Fernando Pessoa’s influence is palpable. The main character in this novel is inspired by one of Pessoa’s many heteronyms, the doctor and poet Ricardo Reis. After many years living in Brazil, he returns to Lisbon in 1936, following the death of his friend Fernando Pessoa. He finds a country living under a recent fascist regime.

The reference to Pessoa in O Homem Duplicado (The Double) also by Saramago is much subtler. This is a book about a man who discovers that there is a person completely identical to him, while watching a film. Throughout the book, he has many conversations with his common sense. In one of those interactions there is a witty allusion to Fernando Pessoa, although his name is not directly stated. Continue reading

‘Tula’ by Jurgis Kuncinas

My rating: 4 stars

Tula by Jurgis Kuncinas is closer to be a fictional memoir than a clearly plotted novel. Taking place predominantly in Lithuania during the Soviet occupation, it is the story of a man struggling with an alcohol addiction and his love for Tula, whom he had an intense but short-lived relationship with. The unnamed narrator confirms early on that Tula is dead. Nevertheless, she is the reason behind some of his actions and is constantly in his thoughts, while he pictures a life of poverty and homelessness.

He recalls various moments from his life, particularly those connected with his deprived neighbourhood in Vilnius, frequently in a stream of consciousness style and, at first, in no specific chronological order. There he has known destitution and failure. Tula did not always live there, but she persistently makes up an appearance in his reminiscences anyway. He mentions various of his relatives and revives many episodes from the time of the Second World War and the 1950s, for example. He had various relationships with other women besides Tula, one of them was Aurelita.

Even before meeting Tula for the first time, he was homeless and wandered around the city looking for a place to sleep. That was particularly dangerous in that period, because there were groups of people keeping an eye on the streets whose sole purpose was to find vagrants and put them into “temporary arrest cells”. His addiction has had a huge impact on his life. He was a patient at the second section of a madhouse, which had the positive result of solving his vagrancy problem for a while. Continue reading

Books That Didn’t Live up to First Impressions

There are books that grab our attention from the outset. Reading some of them is a pleasurable and gratifying experience until the very end. Others, on the other hand, can leave us slightly frustrated, because they end up not living up to our first impressions. In the latest years there were some books that I was quite enjoying reading at the beginning, but that I didn’t like that much as a whole. Below are some of the most striking examples of books that had potential to be far more than just satisfactory reads.

 

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors

In Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, we are introduced to Sonja, a woman in her early forties who is struggling to learn how to drive. Overall, this is a story about loneliness and lost family bonds presented in a fluid writing style. I was intrigued by the references to Sonja’s past and her relationship with her sister. However, the ending was too abrupt and I felt that there was far more story left to tell.

 

The Power by Naomi Alderman

I had high expectations for The Power even before I started reading it, since the premise had great potential. This is a speculative fiction book in which girls start to electrocute people with their hands. The prominent question is: what would women do if they had supreme power? It reveals that power can corrupt and that the aim should be to achieve equality. But it lacks character development and tries to cover too many points of view and events in an insufficient number of pages. Continue reading

‘The Misfit’ by Oliver Friggieri

My rating: 4 stars

Novellas, despite their short number of pages, can be a suitable medium to believably portray the emotional and psychological condition of a specific character. The Misfit by the Maltese author Oliver Friggieri focuses on Baruch, a young man who was trying to discover himself, while grieving over his recently deceased professor.

The display of Baruch’s feelings starts at the instant when he ran to the cemetery and revisited the day of the funeral. That moment is depicted in an emotional, gracious and poignant manner. He loved his professor, who was 33 years old when he died, but no one noticed it. During classes, he always heard everything he said with the utmost attention. However, he never took notes, because he didn’t want to stop looking at him. Contrary to some of his more eager colleagues, he also didn’t approach the professor after classes.

Baruch was struggling to come to terms with who he really was. His life was full of contradictions. He felt depressed and lacked confidence. As he was extremely reserved, he also couldn’t explain his feelings to others. His parents wanted to be able to understand him but couldn’t. Baruch didn’t share his tribulations with them. Instead, he kept a diary, since he could express himself much better through written words. Friggieri used meaningful metaphors, similes and visual descriptions to convey Baruch’s psychological ordeals. Continue reading

Book Haul – September / October 2018

We are less than three months away from the end of the year, and I still have quite a few books left to read in order to complete my ‘EU still 28’ reading project. Last month, I realised that I needed to buy some more of the books on my predetermined list. I obviously also took the opportunity to order a couple of other ones in preparation for winter, although I’m not normally a seasonal reader. Every excuse is a good one when it comes to justify buying books, though!

Below are the nine newest additions to my shelves:

 

Tula by Jurgis Kuncinas

Written by the Lithuanian author Jurgis Kuncinas, Tula takes place in a poor neighbourhood in Vilnius. The narrator dwells on the fringes of society and meets other various curious inhabitants of the same area. I don’t know much more about this book, which I believe also involves a love story. Continue reading