Contemporary Portuguese Authors I Want to Read

With a couple of exceptions, Portuguese authors are not that well known in the English-speaking world. That is one of the reasons why I review almost all of the books I read by them even when translations into English are not yet available. Though I try to read a mix of books written in English and in Portuguese, I feel that I haven’t been reading many contemporary Portuguese authors recently. And by contemporary, for the purpose of this post, I mean authors who are currently alive.

There are six contemporary Portuguese authors that I haven’t read any books by yet, but whose work I’m curious about. Many of their books appeal to me. Nevertheless, there is one book by each of them that I’m more eager to read than the others (I may always change my mind, though).

 

João Tordo

Born in 1975, João Tordo won the José Saramago Prize in 2009. Despite his relatively young age, he has close to twenty books published. His novels have been catching my attention for some time now, but I haven’t read one yet for reasons unknown. I plan to change that soon. I’ll probably start with Felicidade, whose main character is a 17-year-old teenage boy who feels trapped between two worlds. He falls in love with Felicidade, one of three identical twins, who are known as the Kopejka sisters, in 1973, a time when modernity and tradition are clashing. Continue reading

José Saramago: The Gifted and Uncompromising Portuguese Nobel

The Portuguese author José Saramago was a man of strong convictions. He didn’t shy away from bluntly expressing his views, often causing controversy. But his work and talent shined brighter than any outcry, ideological difference or political disagreement. He published his first novel, Terra do Pecado, in 1947, and until 1966 it remained his only book. Born on 16 November 1922 in the village of Azinhaga, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1998, being the only Portuguese writer to have had that honour so far.

When he wasn’t yet two years old, his parents moved to Lisbon, where he grew up. For economic reasons, he had to do a vocational course at a secondary technical school, and his first job was as a car mechanic. It was in a public library that he continued to learn and to cultivate his love for reading. Later, he also worked as a translator and a journalist. He died on 18 June 2010 on the island of Lanzarote (Spain), and his ashes were laid to rest beneath an olive tree near the river Tagus in Lisbon.

He wrote novels, non-fiction, short stories, poetry and plays. His novels challenge genre boundaries, as they mix elements from magical realism, historical and literary fiction. Many are allegories about the human condition and delve into a variety of social and moral issues through stimulating and funny considerations. His characters and narrators lose themselves in their thoughts. Their asides replicate, in a way, how we communicate orally. 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

Favourite Portuguese Authors

Do you want to start reading (more) books by Portuguese authors, but don’t know by whom specifically? I have some recommendations for you! Before deciding to write about this topic, I had never reflected on whom would make their way onto a list about my favourite Portuguese writers. So, I was surprised to realise that all of them had already passed away. This doesn’t mean that I don’t read and enjoy books by more contemporary Portuguese authors. I just didn’t like all of the books I read by them, as was the case with the following four so far.

 

Eça de Queirós

If you are a fan of classics, then Eça de Queirós (also spelt ‘Queiroz’) may be the author for you. Born in 1845, he wrote some of my favourite Portuguese classics – Os Maias (The Maias) and O Crime do Padre Amaro (The Crime of Father Amaro). His books are rich in instances of social criticism and irony. Some of the thoughts he put onto the page are still quite relevant today. In case you want to know more about his work, I wrote a more in-depth feature on him when I first started this blog.

 

José Saramago

José Saramago is the only Portuguese writer to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature so far. His writing style is pretty recognisable. In the majority of his books, you won’t find any quotation marks. The dialogues and the characters’ thoughts are differentiated from the rest of the text by using a comma followed by a capital letter. But as soon as you get familiar with the style, his books become quite readable and flow really well. Continue reading

Portuguese Poets in Music

Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016 sparked a (sometimes heated) debate about whether song lyrics can be considered poetry or not. Although I don’t have a strong opinion on the subject, I tend to believe that song lyrics can be regarded as poetry, as long as they are intricate, profound and convey a stimulating meaning through the rhythmic qualities of the language. The difference seems to be that usually song lyrics are regarded as popular while poetry is considered to be erudite.

Some Portuguese artists and bands mixed the two concepts by setting to music the works of famous poets. The two cases that immediately sprang to mind were Fernando Pessoa and Florbela Espanca. But there may be more examples that I don’t know of.

Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935) has had various of his poems used as song lyrics of diverse music genres – Jazz, Indie-Pop and Fado. Early this year, Salvador Sobral sang during a concert a song, Presságio (composed by Júlio Resende), whose lyrics are a poem by Fernando Pessoa. Continue reading

‘A Morgadinha dos Canaviais’ by Júlio Dinis

My rating: 3 stars

A Morgadinha dos Canaviais is a Portuguese classic from the 19th century written by Júlio Dinis, whose works have not yet been translated into English. Although this is a romance novel, other themes are also addressed, such as the healing power of the countryside, religious fundamentalism, and the games played by the politicians of the time.

The first character to be introduced is Henrique de Souselas, who left Lisbon to visit his aunt in the countryside of Minho, a region in the North of Portugal. His doctor advised him to travel in order to overcome his hypochondria. When he arrives at his aunt’s house, he explains that he feels sad and sick, not having the desire to see or speak to anyone. He is a victim of melancholia. After his long journey, all the natural scenery around him is nothing more than an embodiment of desolation. However, when he wakes up on the following day, he sees the place in a completely different light and becomes eager to discover it.

During his excursion around the village, he keeps hearing about a woman whom the inhabitants call “Morgadinha dos Canaviais”. When Henrique is finally introduced to her, he is astonished at how different she is from what he imagined. Through their conversation, he doesn’t hide his amazement and how much he is in awe of her, not sparing gallantries either. Madalena (the real name of the “Morgadinha”), on the other hand, uses a sarcastic tone, seems quite sure of herself, and is not easily impressed. Throughout the novel, I also found her to be generous and well intentioned. Continue reading

Favourite Books by Portuguese Authors

Portuguese authors don’t seem to be that well known to book bloggers who are not from Portugal or from other Portuguese-speaking countries. For that reason, I decided to share with you five of my favourite books by Portuguese writers. They are listed in no special order and I read them throughout the years.

 

O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis) by José Saramago

So far, I have read three books by the only Portuguese writer to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature, José Saramago. O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis in the English translation) is my favourite. It tells the story of Ricardo Reis, a doctor and a poet, who returns to Portugal after living in Brazil. The idea behind the book stems from Fernando Pessoa’s heteronyms, all of whom are characters created by the poet to write in different styles. The most famous are Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis and Álvaro de Campos. José Saramago transforms Ricardo Reis into a real person who arrives in Lisbon, after the death of his friend Fernando Pessoa, and discovers a country living under a newly established dictatorship.

 

Os Maias (The Maias) by Eça de Queirós

As the title suggests, in this book we are introduced to the Maia family. The novel is built around two plots. One focuses on the relationship between Pedro da Maia and Maria Monforte; while the other, which is the main plot of the book, revolves around Carlos da Maia and Maria Eduarda. However, what this novel excels at is creating a portrait of the 19th century Lisbon, its vices and political corruption, with lots of satire in the mix.

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 on 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 loathe him, as it’s usually the case with the authors who are required reading. In my case, he became one of my favourite Portuguese authors and one I believe that deserves to be better known.

Eça de Queirós can’t be categorised into one single literary movement. His first works showed characteristics of the Romanticism movement; 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 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 portray the vices of society through symbolic characters, whose very existence serves to embody some major idea or aspect of society. And this is one of the reasons why I liked the novels that I read by Eça de Queirós so much. Continue reading