So Different and So Similar Pairs of Books

Two books can have significant elements in common and still tell different stories. Characters may face similar situations, but their individual choices take the plots in completely different directions. The themes of two novels may be similar, but the action, the characters and the writing style ensure that they are ultimately distinctive and readers are still experiencing a fresh story.

I’ve read (at least) four pairs of books that are both different and similar for various reasons.

 

História do Cerco de Lisboa (The History of the Siege of Lisbon) by José Saramago + The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier

These two novels have in common being my least favourites, so far, by José Saramago and Daphne du Maurier, two authors I adore. This is not the reason why I chose them to be part of this post. Both of them are also set in two different time periods, which are connected by a man. The tribulations that the characters face, however, are completely different. 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

Favourite Books I Read in 2018

My reading experience in 2018 was overall dominated by the ‘EU still 28’ project, which consisted in reading one book by an author from each of the still 28 EU member states. I have completed that challenge and, so far, have also managed to read in their entirety ten other books. I’m still reading Christmas Days by Jeanette Winterson. But it wouldn’t be one of my favourite books this year even if I had finished it already, although I’m enjoying it. Thus, I’m ready to reveal which books stood out to me the most in 2018.

Despite not having rated any of the books that I picked up this year with 5 stars, I still read truly good ones. They just weren’t perfect in my eyes. I cannot lie, though, this was not the best reading year in terms of the enjoyment I got from the books that I chose. I gave three books 2 stars and didn’t finish other two.

I’ve rated many books with 4 stars, though. From those I’ve selected the five I liked the most and that were really close to deserve the coveted 5 stars. In reverse order, my favourite books from the ones that I read in 2018 are: 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

‘O Homem Duplicado’ (‘The Double’) by José Saramago

My rating: 4 stars

José Saramago really knew how to play with words and convey a socially relevant message without overlooking the plot. O Homem Duplicado, The Double in the English translation, is mainly a book about the human condition, in the sense that it delves into how people want to feel like they are unique and so struggle to come to terms with being equal to others and not particularly original.

Tertuliano Máximo Afonso, the main character in this novel, is quite a peculiarly named History teacher at a secondary school in an unidentified city. He has been suffering from depression, since he got divorced and started to live alone. One of his colleagues, a Mathematics teacher, advises him to watch some films, so he can get distracted from his troubles. He takes his colleague advice and goes to a store to rent a VHS tape.

After watching the film that was recommended to him, he realises that the actor who played the short role of a hotel receptionist looks a lot like him, despite having a moustache and a different hairstyle. He then remembers that the film was actually released five years before and goes looking for a photograph of himself from that period. When he finds one, he sees that at the time he also had a moustache and the same haircut as the actor. The two of them look exactly the same after all. This discovery affects Tertuliano Máximo Afonso profoundly, although deep down he knows it is nonsensical to feel that way. Continue reading

Book Haul – January 2018

I decided to celebrate the arrival of 2018 by buying more books! And, more importantly, I badly needed three of them for my ‘EU still 28’ reading project. Two of the four books I recently acquired were written by authors I haven’t read before, while the other two are by an author whose work I’m already familiar with and that I tend to really enjoy.

The four newest additions to my shelves are:

 

The Life of Hunger by Amélie Nothomb

The Life of Hunger is the book I chose to read by a Belgian writer for the ‘EU still 28’ project. It’s a fictional memoir about the formative journeys of Nothomb’s youth, during which she suffered from acute anorexia. Continue reading