Oct 4, 2009

The Sunday Salon - Portuguese Literature

The Sunday Salon.com

Ask and thou shall receive: the other day on Twitter, Eva and Hannah asked me about Portuguese books available in English. A few weeks before, someone else (Amanda, was that you?) had asked me for a few recommendations, and since I thought a few more of you might be interested, I decided to write a post on the subject.

I'm going to leave out Saramago because everyone knows about him already. And sadly, I'm also going to have to leave out some of my favourite authors, because their books aren't available in translation Having said that, it seems that more and more Portuguese authors are being translated, so on to what matters - the list:

Portuguese Literature
  • The Dedalus Book of Portuguese Fantasy - you saw this coming, didn't you? I actually want to get this book myself: I took a peek at the table of contents on Amazon, and it includes some authors I'm not familiar with. It also includes lots of 19th century classics, some ghost stories, and even some Modernists. I love that the book proudly identifies itself as fantasy - these stories are perhaps not what some readers would think of when they think of fantasy, but as you know my own definition of the genre is very wide and inclusive, and I love anthologies that use the same definition. The wonderful Dedalus Press actually has a whole series of fantasy anthologies from several corners of Europe that I'm very tempted to start collecting.

  • Eça de Queirós: my second-favourite author on this list. He's sometimes called "the Portuguese Dickens", but comparisons to Zola or Balzac are more accurate. He's a nineteenth century realist, yes, but he also wrote fantasies, like The Mandarin. I'm going to go ahead and personally recommend him to Eva, as well as to those of you who love the classics. Some of the authors listed here are prose experimentalists, but Eça is an old-fashioned storyteller (not that the two are mutually exclusive, but you know what I mean). I love him for his irony, his perceptiveness, and his social insight.
  • Equator by Miguel Sousa Tavares: I haven't read this book, the reason being that I dislike the author. He's also a political commentator, and he has done and said things I find repulsive, like standing up for the Noble Tradition of Bullfighting. I'm afraid that this has put me off his books. Don't let me put you off, though, as none of it actually says much about the book itself. Equator is set mostly in Africa in the early twentieth century, and it's about Portuguese colonialism. I have several friends who loved it, and they all tell me that the historical aspects and the sense of place are wonderful. I suppose that one of these days I'll get over myself and borrow a copy.

  • The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa: Pessoa is the favourite of mine I alluded to earlier, and I particularly love the The Book of Disquiet: it was my favourite book when I was seventeen and eighteen. Nowadays I'm more narrative-oriented, but I still love beautiful prose, and beautiful prose this is. It's not a novel, nor a collection of short stories, nor of essays. It's a collection of pieces of writing on life and loneliness and being a misfit; on insomnia and disquiet and death. Much to my joy, Philip Pullman included it in his Writer's Table at Waterstone's, so I'm going to let him convince you.

  • Everything else Pessoa has written - He's written some prose, but above all he's a poet. I haven't made much time for poetry in the past few years, but I always return to his. I particularly recommend The Keeper of Sheeps, one of the loveliest things ever written. It makes me cry every time. Also, a detail that I think will entice some of you: Pessoa often cited Whitman as one of his biggest influences.

  • Sophia de Mello Breyner is also a poet (I think I actually prefer Portuguese poets to Portuguese novelists). She also wrote some wonderful children's books, but sadly those haven't been translated. Fortunately, her sparse, elegant and moving poems have.

  • When I started doing research for this post, I came across the Carcanet Press Aspects of Portugal series. It sounds worth checking out: it includes poetry, novels, and history books.

  • José Luís Peixoto: My first, and so far only, experience with one of his novels was not a very positive one, but Lu recently read and loved The Implacable Order of Things.

  • Gonçalo M. Tavares: Another youngish author, often paired with Peixoto. His novel Jerusalem is going to be published in November by Dalkey Archive Press.

  • António Lobo Antunes: He's the other giant of contemporary Portuguese literature: big enough that there is a whole group of people who believe that he should have won the Nobel instead of Saramago (I don't have much of an opinion on this, and find these discussions a bit useless to be frank). Lobo Antunes is very hit or miss for me: sometimes he really moves me, other times he bores me. But don't take my word for it! The man has many fans, and quite a few of his books have been translated.

  • Miguel Torga: I actually didn't know his books were available in English, so that was a nice surprise. Torga wrote short stories and poetry, both with a very strong sense of place and heavily influenced by the landscape of the Northeast of Portugal. It's a lovely region, so armchair travelling alone would be a good reason to read him. Here's a different edition of his short stories
There. I wish I could have included more than just one woman, but sadly it seems that not very many have been translated. I hope that those of you interested in reading more literature in translation will find this list useful. Happy Sunday, everyone!


  1. These sound so interesting. Thanks a lot for compiling that list. I am very intrigued by the title "Keeper of Sheeps." There is only one review on Amazon and I didn't understand a word of it! (and it was in English!) But still, I plan to try and find it!

  2. I love reading books in translation — thanks for the list! :)

  3. I have a copy of Equator here. I didn't know anything about the author, but I'll try to forget about that and let you know if the book is worth reading soon.

    Great list!

  4. Thans for all of the great recommendation in translation. I have the Book of Disquiet and I really love Pessoa's writing. I't not one that I have read a all the way through. For that particular book I seen to do better when I read a few passages here and there because it is so heavy and thought-provoking.

  5. Thanks for this great list! I actually don't know much about Portugese literature, with the notable exception of Saramgo. You make so many of these sound so good that I'm sure I'll be seeking them out sooner rather than later!

  6. Great resource!

    I've read the Pessoa and liked the vignette style but would really need to reread it to appreciate it fully (it was one of many texts for my Master's).

  7. Brilliant post, thank you! I'm utterly ignorant about Portuguese Literature; will have to remedy this!

  8. I'm completely ignorant about Portoguese literature, too. Apart from Pessoa, I've never heard of any author on your list. That's shameful.

    Sorry for the OT, but I have two book recommendations from you:

    - a short novel called "Ember" by Bettie Sharpe, which is a twisted retelling of Cinderella. It can be dowloaded for free from the author's website at this link:
    It's truly wonderful. It made my heart ache with longing, that's how good it was.

    - a YA fantasy novel by Claudia Gray, titled "Evernight". I picked this up without knowing anything about the plot, but I realized pretty soon it was going to be about vampires. It's actually way better than Twilight. Only I couldn't tell who was going to be the vampire! This is the first book in a series. The second installment is already out, and I'm reading it right now: "Stargazer". Pick it up and you won't be disappointed.

    Cheers and happy reading!

  9. I'm so excited! It's always great to get a first hand point of view on books. And I know next to nothing about Portugese lit. So I'll be adding more books to my TBR. Sigh. You seem to have that affect on me!!

    BTW, I was super-excited to read your review of the Secret History. It is one of my all-time favorites!!

  10. Oh Nymeth, this is awesome! First to go to the wish list is the Portuguese Fantasy one! It sounds fantastico! (And please forgive me if I'm just totally butchering its use...I know I'm butchering its spelling since I don't know how to add accents.)
    Have you ever read anything by Jose Eduardo Agualusa? He was actually born in Angola to Portuguese parents, but he lives in Portugal part of the time, and he writes in Portuguese. I'm just curious because I bought one of his books and it sounds really intriguing. (Surprise, surprise...I haven't actually read it yet. *sigh* Hey, maybe read-a-thon...it's pretty short. Yes, the read-a-thon pile grows and grows.)
    Anyway, thank you for this wonderful, wonderful post, Ana!

  11. I think the other person was me, wasn't it? I remember asking you, anyways, but maybe Amanda did, too! I was more interested in non-fiction when I asked, but fiction is good too!

  12. This is AWESOME! Thanks for making a list for us! I've read Saramago, but other than that, I don't think I have any experience with any of these authors. Another project. Hey! Maybe a reading challenge?

  13. I've read The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa and remember enjoying it - I love animal narrators and it is narrated by a gecko (not a chameleon)!

  14. Thanks for this great list! I've bookmarked it in the reader to get back to every once in a while. I adore Saramago, but he's the only Portuguese writer I'm familiar with, too. Didn't know Antunes was also Portuguese. I've been eyeing his books for a while now, actually over a year but only haven't picked up his books due to trying to finish my challenges. Hopefully next year.

  15. Jill: Yikes! I went and read the Amazon review and yes, it's very poorly written :/ It makes me want to read it again so I can write another review :P The book is truly excellent, though.

    Hannah, you're very welcome!

    Jackie: Yes, it's best to just forget about that. I look forward to your thoughts on the book!

    Nicole: I think that's the perfect approach. It took me over a year to read the whole book - I'd often just re-read my favourite passages instead of moving forward.

    Steph: I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the ones you read :)

    Claire: How cool that you read it for your Master's! I do think that the book is a grower - like I was telling Nicole, I took my time with it. I'd read the same passages over and over again instead of simply moving on.

    Stormfilled: I'm glad you found it useful!

    Alessandra, thank you for the recommendations! Will download Ember and add Evernight to my wishlist. About Portuguese lit, no need to be ashamed! I confess that I don't know much about Italian literature either, with the exception of Calvino, who I love.

    Stephanie: lol, sorry :P And thank you again for making me mooch The Secret History!

    Debi: You did NOT butcher the use of fantástico! And don't worry about the accents - I know how hard they are to do unless you have a Portuguese keyboard. I haven't read Agualusa yet, but I've heard good things about him. Now I really want to read the book Claire mentioned, though!

    Kailana: It was! I don't know why I thought it was Amanda! Sorry! I'll have to see if I can find some nonfiction, and then perhaps do a part 2?

    Sandy: Hmm...maybe I just borrow Maree's idea and have a Portuguese literary month? Probably best to leave it for next year, as people are overwhelmed right now. And I'm glad you found the list useful!

    Claire: A gecko! Now I want that book.

    Other Claire: I'll be looking forward to hearing what you think of his writing!

  16. Fascinating list! I was excited to see that Dedalus has published a collection of Portuguese fantasy. I've been lusting after some of their other fantasy collections, but I hadn't heard of this one.

  17. Nymeth, are you Portuguese? I have a Portuguese surname,as my husband is of Portuguese descent, so I really do think perhaps I should familiarise myself with some of these books. It might be nice to pass on books I like to my children. Thanks for posting these.

  18. Wow--I haven't heard of any of these. I suppose Saramago sounds familiar but I couldn't tell you anything he's written. The Book of Disquiet sounds relaly moving and Antunes sounds pretty interesting as well. Thanks for the list, Nymeth!

  19. I'm not sure that was me, Ana, but I know we've talked about it a bit. So it might have been. My brain's been somewhere else the last couple months! But whether or not it was me, I'm happy to encourage you, haha! Thanks so much for the list. This is awesome.

  20. I am so glad you wrote this post, Nymeth! I love learning about books from other countries. :-) I hope some your favorite authors not yet translated into English will be one day. It's a shame that we all can't enjoy them. I suppose I could learn Portuguese . . .

  21. Thanks for this list, Nymeth. I have to find Pessoa, may have to break down and buy The Keeper of Sheep.

  22. This is an awesome list! I'm especially interested in Eca de Queiros, and will bookmark this post for future reference.

  23. Dammit dammit dammit and dammit...um...I mean, Great post Nymeth! :D :D :D >>

    You just added many, many books to my TBR list.....

    I think I want to read The Book of Disquiet more than anything though! It sounds like such a beautiful book! Oh..I'm excited to read it! Must go see if library has it...if not, I'm going to have to hold out until I reach a buying opportunity :(

  24. Oh yay! They have it :D Just put in a request for it!

  25. Thanks for the compilation, Ana! We have a Portuguese settlement in one of our states (Melaka) in Malaysia. :)

  26. random question: Do you know where I can get my hands on a copy of the book Anita? I don't even know if that's the title, so it's a bit hard to search for it. It's the book the 'novela' by that title was based off a few years ago. I remember seeing parts of the novela on TV and have an interest in reading the book. But searches for it didn't bring it up...any ideas?

    (é muito difícil achar alguém por aqui que conhece literatura brasileira--os meus professores só conheciam os clássicos.)

  27. Thank you for the link love and thanks for adding so many books to my TBR!

  28. Thanks for the great post, Nymeth! Now I've more books to explore! :D

  29. I have never heard of any of these authors, unfortunately! I must go read some of them now, though, they sound wonderful, especially the fantasy collection and the author Eça de Queirós. I hope my library has some of your list. Thanks, Nymeth!

  30. How fun! I love hearing about authors and books from different cultures. My knowledge of Portuguese authors is virtually non-existant so thank you for this list. I'm bookmarking it so I can refer to it again later. :)

  31. Memory: I'm lusting after all of them, pretty much! Their site is EVIL.

    Vivienne: I am! I should have noticed that about your last name, but somehow I didn't. It's too bad that Portuguese children's authors pretty much never get translated. I'd love to recommend some to your children, but as it is it seems that they'll have to wait a few years and then read adult books.

    Trish: His most well-known book is Blindness, probably because of the recent-ish movie. I'm not a fan myself, though :P

    Amanda: So has mine apparently :P

    Wendy: I hope so too! There's one book in particular that I keep dreaming about translating and publishing under my very own small press - ha :P

    Gavin: I think you'd love it!

    JoAnn: I hope you enjoy whichever books you pick up!

    Chris: Hooray! I'm so glad the library has it. Keep what Nicole said in mind, though: it's more a book to dip into here and there than a book to read straight through.

    Alice: I didn't know that!

    Tamara: I asked my boyfriend (who's Brazilian) and he says it's Presença de Anita by Mário Donato. Good luck finding it!

    Lu: lol, you're welcome :P

    Melody: You should do a post on books from your corner of the world too, you know!

    Ladytink: I can't resist a good cover collage :P

    Meghan, I hope it does too!

    tanabata: I'm glad you found the list useful! :)

  32. I'm ashamed to say that I know nothing about Portuguese literature and have never heard of any of these authors... thanks for opening my eyes to them, I'll be sure to add something to next year's list!

  33. Oooooo ... new stuff that I've never heard of! I'm glad you posted this Nymeth :o)

  34. Yay! And I have The Implacable Order of Things on my TBR case.

  35. Joanna: Sadly I'd be forced to say the same about Polish literature :( You should make a list too!

    Terri: I'm glad you found it useful!

    Eva, hope you enjoy it.

  36. I definitely need to add some Portugese literature to my list. Oddly enough I did belong to a book group which only read foreign literature (I belonged to that group for 14 years!) and can't believe we never discovered any Portugese authors. This is a wonderful list Nymeth. I'm going to have to take note!

  37. Interesting list, Nymeth, thanks! I have Eça de Queiros's Maias on top of my TBR pile (so much on top of it that it is actually at my BF's house!), and that's enough to keep me busy with Portuguese lit for a while, but suggestions are always welcome.
    One Portuguese author that I've recently fallen in love with -- but unfortunately one more that does not get translated -- is Mario de Carvalho, much on the lines of Calvino...

  38. I love the 19th century realists, but also fantasy, so maybe I should pick up Eça de Queiros.

    Would you say that you see more Portuguese language books being translated into English from Portugal or Brazil? (Just curious).

  39. What a great resource, somehow I'm partial to translated books. I have read a couple translated from Italian and they were wodnerful. I hope to find these too.

  40. Iliana, that sounds like such a fantastic book group! I hope you enjoy whichever Portuguese book you decide to go with!

    Francesca: I really enjoyed Os Maias - I hope you do too! It's very nineteenth-century, but that's part of the fun. I've heard good things about Mario de Carvalho, but I haven't read him yet. I love Calvino, though, so it sounds like I should!

    J.T. Oldfield: Hmmm... the fact that Brazil is a much larger country possibly means that there are simply more Brazilian authors, and thus more of them would get translated in absolute numbers. But if we consider the proportions, it's probably about the same?

    Violet: I hope you do find them! And enjoy them, of course :)

  41. Equator is a very interesting book with a unique setting colonial Portuguese Equatorial Africa at the beginning of the 20th century. Miguel S Tavares is a brilliant author!


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