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review 2017-11-11 10:27
Sexual Proclivities: "The Politicians and I: what I couldn't (or didn't want) to write until today" by José António Saraiva
Eu e os Políticos (Portuguese Edition) - José António Saraiva

 

Is it possible for a journalist (or an author “who was once a journalist”) to cross the line? When someone gave me this book I wasn’t sure I’d read it. I’m not really into the gossipy side of politics. But because I was on a boat cruise on route to the Greek Islands everything sort of made sense...

 

António José Saraiva makes quite clear what’s wrong with this kind of book; a book of this kind chooses a bunch of people who didn't consent to be a subject, rather than the ones who did. If Miguel Portas were alive this kind of privacy violation would probably be traumatic and maybe involve legal action. He's dead, yes but ..is it not still better that Saraiva should just have found a consenting subject? (For my foreign readers, Saraiva claims Miguel Portas said to him that Paulo Portas, his brother, was/is gay).

 

I mean; are you interesting? Are you flawed? Is it ok for a book to talk about things you wished to remain private, and said in a private conversation, to be made available to audiences without your consent? If you are dead, is it OK then, and if you say yes, does it matter how it will affect other still living people who knew you and if you still say yes - should journalists assume its OK for all subjects just because some subjects would be OK with it? Audiences might not care about any of this, but how to get the story without doing anything defamatory or breaching privacy for the subject is what journalists question all the time. I do think it is a more complex issue than that when we are still dealing with the all-pervasive structures of the closet. Individual agency is not always what is keeping something secret in such structures. And I really don't think that one is right that people would have been shouting louder about journalistic ethics if the subject were a straight man.

 

 

If you're into gossipy politics, read on.

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review 2017-10-19 17:01
Tomato Soup is Lava: "Time Ages in a Hurry" by Antonio Tabucchi, Antonio Romani (Translation)
Time Ages in a Hurry - Antonio Tabucchi,Martha Cooley,antonio romani

Tabucchi’s notion of time (e.g., aging) is a weird one. I grew up thinking it didn't really exist, that it was just something us humans invented as a measurement, like cm or mm. But I also used to think tomato soup was lava. Time is the only God, because it behaves in exactly the way any self-respecting God should: it continues to do its thing utterly dependably, and ignores everything else. The problem, I think, is that our scientific knowledge of time is so limited that in any discussion, we can't avoid drifting into metaphysics, which doesn't really add to the discussion. Regarding "time" as an entity, I feel we are like a caveman looking at the Mona Lisa and wondering how it was done what it could mean. We simply don't understand the extent of what we're looking at, and, like every generation, fall into the familiar trap that, because we are the here-and-now, we are the cleverest there's ever been, so we KNOW the answer, when, in fact, we're not much smarter than all the thousands of generations before us. The generations who follow us will behave in exactly the same way.

 

 

If you're into Aging and the Notion of Time in particular, read on.

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review 2017-10-13 22:54
Literaryness Made Easy: "The Edge of the Horizon" by Antonio Tabucchi, Tim Parks (Translator)
The Edge of the Horizon - Antonio Tabucchi

Of course it's the old "can you teach talent" argument, isn't it? That's the meaty question, the puzzler of substantial length and girth that needs to be grabbed firmly with both hands. What produces worse writing? People striking off alone, with nobody to tell them to stop and their critics being self-selected (because you see a lot of that online in fandom communities) or people going to study creative writing and, much like Larkin claims parents do, getting fucked up by their teachers' preferences? Books aren't quite the same as music, there's less chances for an obviously wrong note that doesn't fit; even a single poorly. Chosen word in a 50,000 word novel is often far less jarring in the grand scheme of things than a G# when you expect a G in a 10-minute concerto. As they say, even Homer nods. Of course if you open a book and it begins "It was the best of times, it was the best of times", then there's a problem. And "bad" is just a really broad term. A book might be beautifully written but completely morally repellant, and I'd call that bad; it might have a thrilling plot but contain nothing but dull clichés and poor imagery and I'd call it bad. I'd even call a book bad if it was great for three quarters of its length and then had an awful ending. All these different “badnesses” are forgivable by different people to different degrees; I'd be more kind to a book which just had a bit of a flat ending to a book that thoroughly endorsed objectivism as a moral philosophy as its sole Daseinszweck. I'd be more forgiving of something that used cliché and well-worn archetypes with brio and enthusiasm and a little inventiveness than something that tries so hard to not be formulaic it feels like a schoolchild told they can't use "got, nice or went".

 

 

If you're into "Literaryness", read on.

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review 2017-10-06 11:12
Baroqueness in Literature: "A Brusca" by Agustina Bessa-Luis
A Brusca - Agustina Bessa-Luís

"A Brusca" corresponds to a project with a less systematized approach, with the eponymous title of the first tale, with its forty pages. These tales are linked by the title, which reproduces the name of a site, a ruralism in connection with the Portuguese territory contemplated already in "Mundo Fechado" (Closed World) (first novel published in 1948), and especially from "A
Sibyl" (1954), for a whole line of novels.

 
Portuguese is a very plastic language, difficult and ceremonial, but also very surprising for being so baroque. I can feel this baroqueness in all of Agustina's fiction. Is it possible to fully translate it into other languages? To my knowledge Agustina has never been translated into English. I think only the novel "A Sibila"  was translated into German ("Die Sybille")
 
How will Agustina sound in English and German? 
 
 
Read on, if you're into this kind of thing.
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review 2017-08-31 15:27
The Emptiness of Literature: "Requiem - A Hallucination" by Antonio Tabucchi, Margaret Jull Costa (translator)
Requiem: A Hallucination - Antonio Tabucchi,Margaret Jull Costa

“Were someone to ask me why I wrote this story in Portuguese, I would answer simply that a story like this could only be written in Portuguese; it's as simple as that. But there is something else that needs explaining. Strictly speaking, a Requiem should be written in Latin, at least that's what tradition prescribes. Unfortunately, I don't think I'd be up to it in Latin. I realised though that I couldn't write a Requiem in my own language and I that I required a different language, one that was for me A PLACE OF AFFECTION AND REFLECTION”.

 

In “Requiem” by Antonio Tabucchi

 

Affection and reflection: with these two words, Tabucchi defined his book better than any reviewer would be able to. "Requiem" is a small masterpiece of contemporary literature, from which one can only complain about one thing: it ends too soon for those who are taking delight in it. It's a very subjective thing, but when you read something that impresses you as language, regardless of its meaning, that seems to be so perfectly expressed that no one could have written it better, that makes you want to telephone a friend at 4AM and read it aloud, then you're probably reading a great prose stylist. I also pay attention to a writer's ability to create interesting, appropriate and original metaphors, similes, etc. A few top off-the-top-of-my-head's examples of what I would call great prose stylists, really the greatest of the great, and they’d be Shakespeare, Proust, Walter Pater, Frank Kermode, Gibbon’s “Decline and Fall”, Faulkner, Antonio Lobo Antunes, Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” and “To the Lighthouse”, William H. Gass, William T. Vollmann, Cormac McCarthy, John Donne in his sermons (which are enjoyable purely as prose), and many, many others. Again, it's all very subjective, and everyone who cares about this stuff probably has a different list. Hell, I would have a different list if I made it two minutes from now... Having said that, let me fanboy on Tabucchi as hard as I can, and on “Requiem” in particular. This is a tribute to the dead, a fictional Tadeus (the narrator’S best friend), Isabel (his lover), and Fernando Pessoa. But it is also a tribute to a city almost dead, the old Lisbon that the Europeanization of Portugal had been destroying. Tabucchi is passionate about ancient Lisbon and describes it with affection for the all 12 hours during which the main character goes out in search of his ghosts. On the last Sunday of July, the anonymous narrator is reading "The Book of Disquiet" by Fernando Pessoa under a mulberry tree in a farm in Azeitão, when he suddenly finds himself at the Lisbon dock waiting for the "dude" with whom he realizes he suddenly had a scheduled appointment. The "dude" is Fernando Pessoa. While trying to figure out how to fulfill his commitment to the poet, the narrator wanders through an almost deserted Lisbon (people have been refreshing themselves on the beaches), following clues that lead him to the Museum of Ancient Art, the House of Alentejo, the Cemetery of Pleasures, Brasileira do Chiado Café and other traditional points of my Lisbon.

 

If you're into European Literature, read on.

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