Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen: A Socially Conscious Poet

Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen is the Portuguese author that has been part of my life for the longest time. She wrote poetry, essays and short stories, both for adults, younger readers and children. The first time I read one of her stories I was 10 or 11 years old and I will continue to read her poems for years to come. But her role in Portuguese society was larger than ‘just’ being a phenomenal writer. She also played a part against the dictatorial regime in the 60’s and the beginning of the 70’s.

Her poetry reveals her strong civic involvement. Some of the poems featured in her collection O Nome das Coisas focus on the colonial war, the dictatorship, but also the Carnation Revolution, which took place in 1974, its outcome and the meaning of freedom. Other poems were inspired by the life and work of Fernando Pessoa, probably the most renowned Portuguese poet abroad.

The only other complete collection of poems I read by Sophia was Poesia, which has various references to the sea, the night and the moonlight. However, I’ve read and studied many other of her poems while in school. Her poetry revolves mainly around three themes. One of them is nature, which is always perceived in a positive way. It’s by having contact with nature that mankind can achieve total plenitude. It also serves as a symbol for many abstract concepts, such as freedom. Continue reading

Fernando Pessoa: Many Personalities in One Author

To write an author spotlight about Fernando Pessoa is quite a demanding task, since he was not one single writer, he was many. He invented the concept of ‘heteronyms’, which are not ordinary pen names or pseudonyms, but different ‘voices’ with their own biographies, writing styles, physiques, personalities and intellectual lives. Pessoa is one of the most famous Portuguese writers and published both poetry, essays and fiction.

Born in 1888 in Lisbon, he moved to South Africa with his mother in 1895 to join his stepfather, a military officer who was then the Portuguese consul in Durban. His father and his younger brother died when he was really young. In 1905, he returned to Lisbon, where he died in 1935 of cirrhosis. Some of his works were left unfinished and the majority were only published after his death.

Fernando Pessoa can be characterised as a modernist writer, being one of the authors who established the movement in Portugal. I am no specialist, but from what I remember from school, modernist writers aimed to self-consciously break with the traditional ways of writing. They had a conscious desire to express new sensibilities, focus on new themes in poetry and contravene the language rules. Continue reading

Ian McEwan: A Problem of Unpredictability

Whenever I think about buying a book by Ian McEwan, I ponder very carefully before finally making a decision, because I’m never quite sure if I’m going to enjoy it or not. I have read a total of seven books by the English author, who was born in 1948. While some I genuinely liked, others I really regretted buying and ended up giving them away.

Ian McEwan has won several awards since he became an author. The first one was the Somerset Maugham Award for the collection of short stories First Love, Last Rites, published in 1975. He also won the Man Booker Prize in 1998 with Amsterdam.

My four favourite books written by Ian McEwan have one thing in common: an important historical or more current event is used as the background for the main plot. This is the case with The Innocent, Atonement, Saturday and Sweet Tooth. Continue reading

Eça de Queirós: the 19th century Portuguese master of social commentary

If you aren’t Portuguese, you’re probably not familiar with Eça de Queirós, whom some consider to be at the same literary level as Dickens or Balzac. Born in 1845, he is one of the authors young people have to study at school. Some come to love him and others to loath him, as it’s usually the case with the authors who are compulsory to read. In my case, he became one of my favourite Portuguese authors and one I believe deserves to be better known.

The books by Eça de Queirós can’t be categorised in one single literary movement. His first works showed characteristics of Romanticism; in a second phase he adhered to Realism / Naturalism; and he was afterwards influenced by Impressionism and Symbolism. My favourite books by him are generally placed in the literary realism movement and I dare say that this is the phase he’s most known for.

The literary realism movement, which in Portugal appeared around 1865/1870, intends to present the reality as it is, describing it in the most objective and detailed way possible. The authors who followed this movement in the mid-19th century intended to portrait the vices of society through symbolic characters, whose very existence represented some major idea or aspect of society. And this is one of the reasons why I like the novels I read by Eça de Queirós so much. Continue reading