‘A Espada e a Azagaia’ by Mia Couto

My rating: 4 stars

Being the second book in the trilogy As Areias do Imperador (Sands of the Emperor), A Espada e a Azagaia continues to delve into similar topics to those put forward in Mulheres de Cinza (Woman of the Ashes in the English translation). It explores not only how characters dealt with one another within the constraints of colonialism, but also how they faced their own personal tribulations, desires and doubts. Overall, it paints a believable social and psychological portray of various inhabitants of Mozambique.

At the end of the first book (about which there will be spoilers ahead), Imani, a young African woman from the VaChopi tribe, fired a weapon at the Portuguese Sergeant Germano de Melo, hurting his hands, in order to save her brother Mwanatu. So, this novel, which is set in 1895, starts with Imani taking him to the only hospital in the Gaza region. With them were her father, her brother and the Italian Bianca Vanzini.

On their way to the hospital, they stopped at a church. The priest there, Rudolfo, had seen so much violence that he neither performed masses anymore nor believed that praying was useful. An African woman who lived there insisted on doing a ritual that according to her would turn Germano into a fish, so he could return to the sea. Throughout the book there are, in fact, various depictions of African rituals and superstition. Continue reading

Book Haul – September / October 2019

I was not expecting to buy as many books as I did during September and this month. However, after deciding not to finish four novels in the latest months, I was running out of books to read. I usually keep a relatively small number of unread books on my shelves. I tend to only buy new ones once I’ve finished a few of those that I already owned.

So, I acquired nine new books!

 

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Set in Paris and in London, it was described by Dickens as his best story. A French aristocrat and a dissolute English lawyer face chaos and fall in love with the same woman. I’m expecting it to delve into a variety of social issues that characterised the 19th century. Continue reading

Bookshops with History in Lisbon

Traditional businesses have been struggling to survive the advent of online shopping since the noughties. And bookshops in Lisbon are no exception. Many readers, however, still thankfully find it delightful to browse shelves and tables full of old and brand-new releases. There’s something special about the possibility of holding books, admiring their covers and take some of them home with us if the blurbs are captivating.

The Lisbon city council has set up the project “Lojas com História” (“Historic Shops”), in February 2015, in order to protect the traditional businesses that are significant for the identity of the Portuguese capital. Some economic activities are, after all, part of the cultural heritage of various cities worldwide. Not only does this programme provide marketing support to shopkeepers, but it also offers financial aid as, for example, rents soar. Two bookshops in the Chiado neighbourhood are part of this project – Bertrand and Ferin.

Located at Rua Garrett in a beautiful building adorned with blue tiles, the Bertrand Bookshop holds the title for the oldest bookshop in the world still in operation. Open since 1732, it was founded by Pedro Faure, a French bookseller who moved to Lisbon. Later, he chose as an associate Pierre Bertrand, who also married his daughter. It has a diverse selection of books from a variety of genres, displayed in multiple rooms with archway ceilings. The majority of the books are Portuguese editions, but you can also find many books in French, Spanish and English, including new releases. Continue reading

‘The Silent Companions’ by Laura Purcell

My rating: 4 stars

From the very first pages, The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell is an intriguing, compelling and unnerving story. While in traditional haunted house tales characters have to face scary ghosts, in this novel their adversaries are even more disturbing thanks to their backstory and purpose. But the main character, Elsie, is also haunted by her past, which helps to explain her conflicting feelings about parenthood.

This novel is set in three different time periods. When we are first introduced to Elsie Bainbridge, she was a patient at St Joseph’s asylum and was being accused of murder. She was gravely injured in a fire that she was believed to have started, causing the death of two people. A new doctor wanted her to tell him her version of events, but what she really wanted was to forget. As she couldn’t speak, he gave her a pencil and paper.

In 1865, Elsie Bainbridge was heading to her late husband’s abandoned country estate, The Bridge. She was pregnant and only had Sarah, her husband’s cousin, for company. No one knew how and why Rupert had died. He was just found dead at the estate. Elsie hadn’t married for love, but she missed Rupert. She wanted the security that he was supposed to have provided. She was also not looking forward to having a child, as she didn’t have fond memories from her childhood. Continue reading

Monthly Favourites – September 2019

September has come to an end, so it’s time for another instalment of my monthly favourites! These introductions are getting a bit repetitive… One can only hope that one day I’ll have an amazing idea for the paragraph that precedes the revelation of my favourite books, TV series, music or films of the month. Today is not that day yet!

Last month, I finished reading three books – Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb, Washington Black by Esi Edugyan and The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell (which I haven’t reviewed yet). I enjoyed all of them, but there was one that stood out from the rest: Assassin’s Apprentice. It’s a fantasy story of court intrigue and lust for power that also manages to amazingly depict human emotions.

Set in the Six Duchies, which are ruled by the Farseers, it has as main character the young Fitz. When he was six years old, he was left by his maternal grandfather at the castle of the town where they lived in, because he was the bastard son of the Crown Prince, Chivalry. The king decided that he was to be trained both as an assassin and in the traditional magic of the family – the Skill. Fitz’s state of mind is wonderfully portrayed. Continue reading

Writing the Seasons with Books: Autumn

This year, instead of recommending books that some people may deem appropriate to read during a specific season, I’m writing the four seasons with books. I take a look at my shelves and select books with titles beginning with the letters of the name of the season that is just starting. And the time has come to welcome autumn! Temperatures have started to slowly drop. The leaves of the trees are getting ready to fall.

 

Autumn by Ali Smith

This was the first book that I read by Ali Smith. It’s not easy to describe what Autumn is about, as it mixes a couple of elements. Not only does it compile recollections about how 101-year-old Daniel Gluck, who lives in a care home, influenced Elisabeth Demand’s life, it also alludes to a variety of current events. Brexit, the plight of refugees and various economic issues connect this novel to the time of its writing.

 

Uma Casa na Escuridão by José Luís Peixoto

The Portuguese author José Luís Peixoto penned a hugely implausible story that doesn’t aim to be anything else. The plot of this novel, which hasn’t been translated into English yet as far as I know, is merely used as a way to convey feelings – love, jealousy, fear, suffering and solitude. Although I struggled to finish it, I truly cared for the characters and enjoyed the poetic prose. Continue reading

‘Washington Black’ by Esi Edugyan

My rating: 4 stars

Slavery, racism and the allure of scientific discoveries permeate the entirety of Washington Black by Esi Edugyan. Although it comprises an adventure, this novel reads more like a fictional memoir focusing on specific periods from the life of George Washington Black, who was born a slave in Barbados. Set in the 19th century, it also touches on the complexity of human behaviour, while raising questions on people who, despite being against slavery, ended up using slaves for their own purposes anyway.

Washington Black, also known as Wash, was named by his first master at Faith Plantation. He had no one to take care of him during his childhood except for Big Kit, whom had been a witch before being taken as a slave. When Wash was around 11 years old, his first master died. The plantation’s next owner, Erasmus Wilde, soon proved himself to be capable of great brutality.

Big Kit and various other slaves at the plantation believed that they would return to their homelands after they died. So, some started committing suicide. To put an end to it, Erasmus Wilde ordered the head of one of the slaves that had killed himself to be cut from his body and warned the other ones that he would do the same to all the new suicides. Without a head, a person couldn’t be reborn. Continue reading

Books I’m Waiting for in Paperback

Unless I’ve been impatiently and fervently expecting a book for years, I always tend to wait for the release in paperback. They are cheaper, much easier to hold and carry around. This also means that I tend to read the majority of books when the hype has already subsided. There are four books that I have been seeing mentioned around a lot lately and that I’m planning to read as soon as the editions in paperback are released.

 

The Confession by Jessie Burton

Since I loved both The Miniaturist and The Muse, I obviously want to read The Confession, Jessie Burton’s new novel. My expectations are not as high as they could have been, though, as part of the book takes place in LA, a location that usually doesn’t appeal to me.

On the other hand, it is set in different time periods, something I tend to enjoy. In the 1980s, Elise Morceau falls in love with Constance Holden, a successful writer whose book is about to be adapted into a Hollywood film. Thirty years later, Rose Simmons is looking for answers about her mother, whom she has never met. The last person to see her was Constance. Continue reading

Book Series – What I’m Reading

Reading book series is a great way to become fully immersed in a fictional world. I’m currently sinking my teeth into five book series and, until I finish at least one of them, I don’t plan to start a new one. Whenever I complete a book series, the plan is to replace it with another one of those on my wish list. I’m only mentioning on this post the series that I’m not caught up on (reason why the list below doesn’t feature A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin) and that I want to finish.

 

The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb

This is the first trilogy in a larger fantasy series set in the Realm of the Elderlings. So far, I’ve only read the first book, Assassin’s Apprentice, which is set in the Six Duchies, a land ruled by the Farseers. Fitz, the bastard son of Prince Chivalry, is trained as an assassin and in the traditional magic of the Farseer family – the Skill. Not only is this book full of court intrigue, it also delves into various human emotions.

After finishing this trilogy, I’ll certainly read the other series set in the same world. Although I considered the possibility of reading all the series featuring Fitz first and only afterwards picking up the remaining ones, I’m now more inclined to read them in order of publication. Continue reading

‘Assassin’s Apprentice’ by Robin Hobb

My rating: 4 stars

Fantasy novels aren’t merely a vessel to transport readers to a world full of magic. Assassin’s Apprentice, the first book in The Farseer Trilogy by Robin Hobb, deals with very true-to-life topics. Not only is this a story about court intrigue and lust for power, but it also delves into human emotions in a believable way. Set in the Six Duchies, which are ruled by the Farseers, this is the first introduction to a meticulously imagined world that begs to be discovered and savoured.

When the narrator was six years old, he was left by his grandfather at the castle of the town where they lived in. He was the bastard son of Prince Chivalry, the Crown Prince, who, according to the old man, was aware that he had got his daughter pregnant. A guard took him to Prince Verity, who then ordered him to be fed and taken someplace where he could sleep until he decided what was to be done with him. For some weeks, he slept at the stables and was taken care of by Burrich, who at the time was his father’s man. He was later taken to Buckkeep without ever knowing Chivalry.

His existence complicated the line of succession. Prince Chivalry was married to Lady Patience, but they didn’t have a child together, as neither of her pregnancies had lasted the full term. He, thus, ended up abdicating the throne, and Verity assumed his place. At first, the political aspects of the book are just hinted at. The political machinations that took place among the royal family can be inferred from the conversations between the characters. They become more obvious as the story progresses. Continue reading