Monday, 3 December 2012

Some words on the books I received for my birthday

Yesterday I celebrated another birthday. And of course I received books, eight new books to be precise.

I have lots of new poetry to read. One of the presents was Manuel Alegre’s Obra Poética, a two-volume hardback collection of his poetry between 1960-2008. Alegre (b. 1936) is a literary and political celebrity in Portugal because of his opposition to Salazar’s dictatorship. Conscripted as a soldier to fight in the Angolan War, he deserted and joined the revolutionary guerrilla. He spent time in prison and his poetry was forbidden in Portugal during the dictatorship and had to circulate in samizdat editions. Twice he ran for presidency, twice I voted for him, twice he lost. I never read anything by him, so I’m curious to give his poetry a try.

I’m equally ignorant of the poetry of Ruy Duarte de Carvalho (1941-2010), collected in Lavra. He was born in Portugal but became an Angola citizen in 1983, where he spent his childhood and for whose national independence he fought.

I’m more familiar with Teixeira de Pascoaes, the author of As Sombras/Á Ventura/Jesus e Pã. Pascoaes (1877-1952 was considered one of the best poets of his generation, and he was one of the few Portuguese poets Fernando Pessoa admired. The inventor of Saudosismo, a literary current based on saudade, or the feeling of sadness we feel when someone we love is absent. According to Pascoaes, this feeling was the defining trait of the Portuguese identity. A religious and mystical poet, he wrote of God and the spiritual world with extraordinary lyrical beauty. Before the end of the month I hope to write about a play he wrote with Raul Brandão.

Of Fernando Pessoa I didn’t get any poetry, but I did get another one of his incomplete and fragmentary short-stories, A Hora do Diabo, a tale about the Devil. The editor’s introduction is longer than the actual text.

I also received José de Almada Negreiros’ Manifestos e Conferências. Almada Negreiros (1893-1970) was one of Pessoa’s best friends and one of Portugal’s greatest modernists. A genuine Renaissance Man, he was a precursor of surrealism, co-existed with dada and tried to introduce Futurism in Portugal. He was a great writer of manifestos and thinker of art. I can’t wait to delve into this amazing book.

Another book I got was José Eduardo Agualusa’s Um Estranho em Goa. Agualusa is an excellent Angolan writer, but this is a travel book about his journey to Goa, a former Portuguese colony in India. I’m very curious to read his thoughts about this place.

Several months ago I read a book by Gonçalo M. Tavares and didn’t like it very much. Tavares (b. 1970) is considered the best of the young Portuguese writers. In English he has a few novels available, Jerusalem and Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique. The book I received, Um Homem: Klaus Klump/A Máquina de Joseph Walser, contains the first two books of this loose tetralogy. Perhaps it’s the best place to begin. I want to understand what all the hype is about.

Finally a book called Portugal e os Portugueses, by a priest, Manuel Clemente. It’s a collection of essays. I don’t know anything about the author, I’m awfully ignorant of our essayists. But I’ve skimmed through the book and there are interesting reflections about history and society in it. We’ll see if I can extract something out of it for the blog.

And this is what I received for my birthday. I don’t think I’ll be starting any of these books in 2012, even if I’m anxious to read some of them, but I’m so swamped with piles of unread books it might be a while before you see them mentioned in the blog again.


  1. A belated happy birthday! That is an unusually interesting stack of books. I should give Tavares a try, too.

    1. Tom, thanks!

      Tavares had had a meteoric rise in Portuguese letters, winning lots of wards in a few years and getting Saramago to vouch for him.

      But I read a collection of short-stories that seemed like a sub-par Borgesian riff. I'm hoping his novels will change my mind.

  2. Happy birthday! I completely understand the pile of unread books. And of course, thanks to you there's about to be one more on the stack (Raised from the Ground should get here today or tomorrow).

    Enjoy your spoils!

    1. Dwight, thanks!

      You make me very happy telling me you're going to read Raised from the Ground; it's great that Saramago and readers are discovering each other.

  3. Happy belated birthday!

    Looks to be an interesting haul of books.

    I know what you mean about being overwhelmed with unread books. I have forced myself to stop acquiring new ones until a get more read!

    1. Brian, thanks!

      The problem is that I can't buying more. Just today I received two more on the mail.