Ever since José Saramago was awarded the Nobel prize in literature in 1998, Portuguese authors have become increasingly popular around the world. PDV has put together an introductory guide to help you become acquainted with some of Portugal’s most widely read authors and help you find out what makes them so unique.
Unlike the world famous literary traditions of Britain, France or Russia, Portuguese literature is still something of a hidden treasure trove waiting to be fully discovered by readers outside the country. However, it has been quietly gaining popularity since José Saramago won the Nobel prize in literature in 1998, with Portuguese authors now making it onto many international bestseller lists including that of the renowned New York Times Book Review.
To help you out on your journey into the realm of Portuguese literature, PDV has selected some of the most internationally read Portuguese authors, both classic and contemporary in a variety of genres, who make the perfect introduction to what the country has to offer in the art of writing.
Regarded as one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century, the unique Fernando Pessoa and his several heteronyms, each endowed with a different personality, biography and writing style, is beyond comparison. Pessoa’s poetry changes radically according to “who” was writing, making each alternate self as distinctive as the real life poet himself. Acclaimed and revered as one of Portugal’s finest writers, the leading figure in Modernism only published one book of poetry during his lifetime, “Mensagem”, with all his other writings being only discovered and published after he died at the age of 47 in 1935.
The Book of Disquiet is the fourth most sold book originally written in Portuguese on Amazon.com. Penned by one of Fernando Pessoa’s heteronyms, Bernardo Soares, it was written in fragments, part narrative, part journal and part prose, and yet it captivates the reader in a way no other book can.Where to buy: Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes&Noble
José Saramago won the Nobel prize in literature in 1998 securing his place as one of the best writers in the world. His books often offer sharp criticisms on society and religion (Saramago was renowned for his Communist, atheist stance), or delve into history and re-write the past. His writing style includes an original form of punctuation, in a prose that emphasises orality, almost seeming like someone is constantly speaking to the reader, and sarcastic humour.
Blindness is one of Saramago’s most popular books, where the author tackles the themes of the human condition and human values. In this acclaimed novel an epidemic spreads across the earth causing people to become blind or only see a “milky sea”, and it follows the characters afflicted by this ailment as hygiene, food and general living conditions begin to deteriorate. A film based on the book was released in 2008, directed by Brazilian Fernando Meirelles, who gained world renown for his movie City of God. Actors Mark Ruffalo and Julianne Moore play the main characters, the doctor and the doctor’s wife.Where to buy: Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes&Noble
Eça de Queirós
Eça de Queirós, one of Portugal’s leading writers of the 19th century, has often been ranked with Charles Dickens and Leo Tolstoy. He embraced Realism and often mocked the previous style, Romanticism, as can often be seen in his novels. Many of his books offer an incisive portrait of social customs in 19th century Portugal, often revolving around the mundane details of everyday life, with sharp social criticisms.
The Maias, first published in 1888, is considered his finest work. A novel focusing on the everyday life of the old Maia family from Lisbon, it details the intrigues and romances that affect three generations. Often described as a soap opera, it is also heavily imbued with social criticism and humour. It follows the story of young aristocrat Carlos da Maia and the dramatic, incestuous relationship he establishes with Maria Eduarda.
António Lobo Antunes
Having spent his childhood dreaming of becoming a writer, Lobo Antunes became a psychiatrist instead, before deciding to pursue his first ambition. He has become one of the most original writers in the country (and the world), and his novels always contain hints of memories and recollections. In interviews, Lobo Antunes often claims that no one writes quite like he does. In fact, his narrative is an intertwinement of thoughts and dialogues which lead the reader to become lost inside the characters’ minds. However, this allows the reader to fully understand the characters, as they are able to follow their every thought as the story unfolds, a unique effect in literature.
What Can I Do When Everything’s on Fire?is a psychological novel narrated by Paulo, the son of a transvestite whose lover was a heroin addict and committed suicide. It’s set in Lisbon in this hallucinatory world as Paulo tries to psychologically understand his life which has been surrounded by madness.Where to buy: Amazon, Waterstones, Barnes&Noble
Gonçalo M. Tavares
Only 42 years-old, Gonçalo M. Tavares is the great promise of Portuguese literature. Before passing away, José Saramago praised his writing and predicted he would become the next Portuguese writer to win the Nobel prize in literature. Many of his novels are set in abstract places with characters with Germanic names, and his writing is often influenced by philosophers such as Wittgenstein. He is widely known and praised for his tetralogy of “black books“, all focusing on the theme of evil. His most recent book, not yet published in English, Viagem à Índia (Journey to India), is a modern pastiche of the epic poem The Lusiads by Luís de Camões, in which the main character bears the name of Harold Bloom, the American literary critic.
Jerusalem is one of the “black books” and it tells the story of four different main characters whose stories intertwine: the doctor Theodor Busbeck, who studies evil and horror throughout the novel; Mylia, his ex-wife, who has been crazy since first meeting Busbeck; Gomperz Rulrich, director of the asylum where Mylia is staying; and Kaas Busbeck, the disabled son of Theodor and Mylia, regularly beaten by his father who tries to force him to act normally by resorting to violence.
Luís Miguel Rocha
Luís Miguel Rocha is the first and so far only Portuguese author to have made onto The New York Times’ bestseller list, in 2009. A relatively new author of bestsellers – who is better known abroad – he has already sold over half a million copies worldwide, and is sold in over thirty countries. The author is also a television writer and producer, and worked in London prior to publishing his first novel. He has also translated a variety of books, but currently focuses on his writing career.
The Last Pope, his second book which granted him entry in the bestseller list, is a novel with a conspiracy theory at its core that revolves around the mysterious death of Pope John Paul I involving various intelligence agencies such as the CIA and Propaganda Due.
José Rodrigues dos Santos
José Rodrigues dos Santos is a journalist and the most popular news anchor in state-owned broadcasting corporation RTP, where he worked as editor-in-chief. As a new author, Rodrigues dos Santos is known for his fast-paced thrillers with a historical background, written in an easy-to-read style. His books have been translated into sixteen different languages including English, Spanish, French, Russian, German and Italian.
The Einstein Enigma will remind readers of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code because of its suspense and action-packed plot. It is a novel about a quest for the scientific proof of the existence of God based on a formula devised by Einstein himself. An easy novel that promises to keep you entertained from cover to cover.
Photos: António Lobo Antunes, homepage, by Pedro Loureiro; António Lobo Antunes, article, Jo Schwartz