For a significant number of readers in the Anglophone world, Portuguese fiction begins and ends with three names: Fernando Pessoa, Luís Vaz de Camões and Jose Saramago. All three of whom are, of course, fantastic. There's much more to Portuguese literature, however, and, with the anniversary of the Carnation Revolution upon us, I thought you might enjoy a few tips for getting to know Portugal better...
The Illustrious House of Ramires by Eça de Queiroz (Translated by Margaret Jull Costa)
A society adapting to its reduced place in world, in thrall to nostalgia. Nope, not the UK today but Portugal in the nineteenth century. The Illustrious House of Ramires probes the gaps between ideal and reality, between life and literature. It's gloriously, even viciously, comic. In fact, there's a delicious and vivacious cruelty to Eça's writing that reminds me of both Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde at their most scathing.
The Return - Dulce Maria Cardoso (Translated by Ángel Gurría-Quintana)
The collapse of both the Salazar dictatorship and Portugal's colonial project in Angola provide the catalyst for Cardoso's beautiful and semi-autobiographical novel. Relocated to a cramped hotel in Portugal, the settlers and their descendants, known as returnees, are forced to question both their part in the colonial endeavour and the very notion of home. It's a complex subject and Cardoso handles it with care, precision and great feeling.
28 Portuguese Poets (Translated by Richard Zenith and Alexis Levitin)
Yes, this is a rather cheeky way of sneaking in twenty-eight authors, among them several of Pessoa's heteronyms. Portugal's poetic tradition is just as rich as its French, German and English counterparts and this anthology offers the perfect introduction. From Sophia de Mello Breyner and Herberto Helder to Eugénio de Andrade and Adília Lopes, the sheer breadth and skill of the poetry gathered here is astonishing.
Take Six: Six Portuguese Women Writers
The best anthologies, particularly those that draw upon translation, simultaneously satisfy and whet the appetite, making evangelists out of those who fall for the writers featured. In a more just world, all six writers in this collection would be household names in the Anglophone world. Bessa-Luís channels Kafka to locate the strange and the uncanny in the everyday, while Maria Judite de Carvalho's "So Many People" rivals Alice Munroe and alone would justify the cover price. I don't have the space to cover each writer here but, believe me, the quality never dips.
City of Ulysses - Teolinda Gersão (Translated by Jethro Soutar & Annie McDermott)
Gersão's novel holds its own against those other great tributes to Lisbon - Fernando Pesso's The Book of Disquiet and Saramago's The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. A meditation on love and the city, City of Ulysses perfectly illustrates why Gersão is held up as one of the greats of contemporary Portuguese fiction.