‘Os Maias’ (‘The Maias’) by Eça de Queirós

My rating: 5 stars

As the title suggests, Os Maias (The Maias in the translation into English) by Eça de Queirós focuses on the misadventures of the Maia family. However, this Portuguese classic, which I read for the first time around nineteen years ago, has much more to offer, since it’s also a superb portrayal of the vices of the higher classes in the 19th century and of the cultural discussions of the time. The ironic tone and some of the behaviours of the characters make this a recurring funny novel, despite it not lacking sadness as well.

The Maia family went to live at Ramalhete, a house at the Janelas Verdes neighbourhood in Lisbon, in the Autumn of 1875. Ramalhete had remained uninhabited for years, but now that Carlos was finishing his studies at the University of Coimbra, his grandfather Afonso wanted them to move there. They were the last two members of their family. Thanks to a valuable flashback, readers learn why.

When he was younger, Afonso da Maia, who was a supporter of liberalism, lived for a while in exile in the outskirts of London, as the absolutist King Miguel I had taken over the Portuguese throne. While he cherished living there, his wife struggled. Being surrounded by Protestants only made her Catholicism grow stronger. She started to hate everything that was English and sent for a priest from Lisbon to be responsible for their son’s education. The family ended up returning to Portugal when absolutism came to an end. The health of Afonso’s wife had been deteriorating, though, and, when she eventually died, their son, Pedro da Maia, was shaken by sadness and mourned her with intensity, behaving erratically. Continue reading

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‘Atonement’ by Ian McEwan

My rating: 5 stars

It is novels such as Atonement by Ian McEwan that attest to the magic of the written word. I first read this fully immersive book in Portuguese more than a decade ago and have now (re)read it in the original. This story about how the imagination of a clueless girl has devastating consequences on the lives of others is a literary feast, which is written in an engaging prose and is full of unforgettable moments between the characters.

Briony had been writing stories since she was very young. On a day in the summer of 1935, at the age of thirteen, she decided to write and stage a play, ‘The Trials of Arabella’, to welcome home her brother Leon. Her decision to embrace a new format was inspired by the presence of her cousins, whose parents were getting divorced. The twins Jackson and Pierrot were nine years old, and Lola, who liked to act as a grown-up, was fifteen. Although her cousins were not too excited to act in the play at first, they ended up assenting to.

Cecilia, Briony’s older sister, had also recently returned home from Cambridge. After picking some wild flowers to put in the room where a friend of Leon’s, the chocolate magnate Paul Marshall, was going to stay, she decided to arrange them in an expensive vase. Nearby was Robbie Turner who tried to help her fill the vase with water on the fountain in the garden. The lip of the vase broke, though, and two pieces fell in the water. Cecilia stripped off her clothes and plunged into the fountain to get them back. Continue reading

‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen

My rating: 5 stars

It was an immense pleasure to finally read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen in the original language more than a decade after first falling in love with it thanks to the Portuguese translation. The convincing characters and the engaging plot may be my old friends, but turning the pages of this wonderful classic felt like making a brand-new discovery.

Mrs Bennet was eager to marry her five daughters – Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Catherine and Lydia. So, it was with great satisfaction that she learnt that a single young man, Mr Bingley, who had a large fortune, was to live at the neighbouring Netherfield. Although Mr Bennet told her that he did not wish to pay Bingley a visit, he had always intended to go to his new home and, in fact, he was one of the first to do so. Elizabeth was Mr Bennet’s favourite daughter, reason why he was convinced that she would be the one to catch Mr Bingley’s attention. He was wrong, though.

Mr Bingley attended a ball where he danced more than once with Jane. He thought that she was the most beautiful woman there. And Jane admire him also, since he was handsome, lively and had good manners. Bingley was there with his sisters and his friend Mr Darcy, who, despite being a handsome man, was deemed horrid and arrogant. He refused to dance with anyone whom he didn’t already know and was overheard saying that Elizabeth’s looks were merely tolerable. Continue reading

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

My rating: 5 stars

A mesmerising and compelling book doesn’t always have to be action-packed. In O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis (The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis in the English translation), José Saramago turned one of Fernando Pessoa’s heteronyms into a real person to create a gloriously ingenious novel that doesn’t require a thrilling plot to shine. I read this book for the first time around 12 years ago, and it was a pleasure to rediscover it recently. It mixes magical realism with existentialism, literary and historical fiction, while paying homage to great names of Portuguese literature.

Ricardo Reis arrives in Lisbon at the end of 1935, on a rainy day, after spending the last 16 years in Brazil. He is a 48-year-old doctor who writes poetry and was born in Porto. He decided to return to Portugal after receiving a telegram from Álvaro de Campos informing him that their friend Fernando Pessoa had died. Around the same time there was also a (failed) rebellion in Brazil. After a journey on board of the Highland Brigade, he takes a taxi at the port, and the driver suggests that he stays at the Bragança Hotel. Its manager, Salvador, is eager to discover everything he can about his clients. But Ricardo Reis isn’t sure about how long he will stay at the hotel. He could either rent a house and practise medicine in Lisbon or return to Brazil.

During his stay at the hotel, Ricardo Reis becomes interested in a young woman whom he sees at the dining room. Her left arm is paralysed. He learns from Salvador that her name is Marcenda and that she and her father have been staying at the hotel three days every month for the last three years. They are from Coimbra and apparently go to Lisbon to see a doctor because of her condition. Continue reading