Eight books to read on Portuguese Author Day

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Portuguese author day

This year, Dia do Autor Português – Portuguese author day – is celebrated on Sunday May 22, 2022. The Business Optimizer team makes a few suggestions for books you may wish to read in honor of the celebration.

Did you know that in addition to World Book Day, different countries celebrate their own author days? One such country is Portugal – whose literary heritage is woefully underestimated outside its shores.

In an effort to bring wider appreciation to some great Portuguese works of literature, we suggest eight titles that you might wish to read. What a rewarding way to honor the Portuguese Author Day on 22nd May!

#1. Death at Intervals

by José Saramago

José Saramago is the only Portuguese writer to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature. He won in 1998. Known for his practice of setting whimsical parables against realistic historical backgrounds in order to comment ironically on human foibles, Saramago has many of his novels translated into English. Death at Intervals is a great place to start. The novel is set in an unnamed country where, mysteriously, at the stroke of midnight on January 1, no one in the country experiences death any more. Initially greeted with joy, the change soon begins to wreak havoc – until death returns.

#2. The Mystery of the Sintra Road

by José Maria de Eça de Queirós and Ramalho Ortigão

The Mystery of the Sintra Road is the first novel published by one of Portugal’s most famous authors, José Maria de Eça de Queirós – whom Zola described as better than Flaubert. Eça de Queirós wrote this spoof mystery with his friend Ramalho Ortigão, publishing it in the form of a series of anonymous letters in the Lisbon newspaper Diário de Notícias between 24 July and 27 September 1870. At the time, many readers believed the letters to be genuine. The subsequent book, based on the series, is considered to be the first Portuguese detective story. The story begins with two friends being kidnapped on the way back to Lisbon from Sintra by three masked men. They are taken to a mysterious house in which they discover a corpse. An English translation by Margaret Jull Costa and Nick Phillips was published in 2013 and was welcomed by Michael Kerrigan in The Scotsman: “One of the greatest novelists of the novel’s greatest age, Eca is also amongst the most readable due to his narrative energy, sweeping range and tart sense of humour.”

#3. Collected Stories

by Machado de Assis

Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis was born June 21, 1839, in Rio de Janeiro, and became a poet, novelist, and short-story writer. A Brazilian writer, writing in Portuguese, Machado became the first president of the Brazilian Academy of Letters in 1896 – an office he held until his death in 1908. Machado de Assis left behind a legacy of short stories and novels, which were most recently compiled in English into The Collected Stories of Machado de Assis in 2018. It brings together all seven collections of short stories that Machado published in his lifetime, from Rio Tales (1870) to Relics From an Old House (1906), including the characteristically short, caustic prefaces he appended to each. It is a great way to discover why Susan Sontag called Machado “the greatest writer ever produced in Latin America”.

#4. Take Six: Six Portuguese Women Writers

For something more contemporary, why not take a look at the compilation of female Portuguese authors in Take Six? Published by Dedalus books, the compilation is a celebration of six remarkable Portuguese women writers. It includes short stories by Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, Agustina Bessa-Luís, Maria Judite de Carvalho, Hélia Correia, Teolinda Gersão and Lídia Jorge. The stories and styles are all very different, but what the writers have in common is their ability to take everyday life and look at it afresh to create truly captivating tales from Portugal. A great way to discover some of Portugal’s best women writers.

#5. The Book of Disquiet

by Fernando Pessoa

The Guardian says, “in The Book of Disquiet, Bernardo Soares, an assistant bookkeeper in a Lisbon fabrics firm, records impressions he doesn’t expect to see published. ‘To see and feel,’ he says, ‘makes me feel a great hope, but I realise that hope is literary’.”

Famously, The Book of Disquiet is an incomplete work – it is composed of more than 500 fragments of Pessoa’s writing that were not even published until 1982, decades after Pessoa’s death in 1935. As such, The Book of Disquiet is one of the great literary works of the twentieth century. It is a compilation of writing written over the course of Fernando Pessoa’s life – the pieces of which were pulled together from the thousands of individual manuscript pages that the author left in a chest. Bradley Babendir of Electric Lit says, “Part of what makes this enthralling, and as you said, one of the greatest literary works to ever emerge out of modernism, is that incompleteness feels intrinsic to its project.”

It’s a notion echoed in the Guardian, which says, “Fernando Pessoa’s great work offers us a different approach altogether: accepting that dreams needn’t be converted into achievement.”

#6. The Natural Order of Things

by António Lobo Antunes

The Boston Globe says, “The Natural Order of Things reads like William Faulkner … gorgeous … bedevilled [and] lyrical … a remarkable writer.” It is a tale about two families and the secrets that bind them – connections that become clear only gradually. It begins with a diabetic teenage girl in a Lisbon apartment complex who is kept awake by the whispered childhood memories of the middle-aged civil servant lover she despises. Her father, once a miner in South Africa, is now reduced to dreams of “flying underground.” Brilliant and surreal, the novel cleverly entwines the voices and memories of its characters in a “tragicomic portrait of a disintegrating society”.

The LA Review of Books agrees it is “a work of poetic and erotic genius from a master navigator of the human psyche … Antunes writes the tales of these two families with the insight of a Faulkner.”

#7. The Implacable Order of Things

by José Luís Peixoto

José Saramago, Portugal’s only Nobel laureate of literature, described José Luís Peixoto as “one of the most surprising revelations in recent Portuguese literature.”

Peixoto’s 2009 novel, The Implacable Order of Things is set in an unnamed Portuguese village, against a backdrop of severe rural poverty, where two generations of men and women struggle with love, violence, death and, perhaps worst of all, the inescapability of fate. Its oddball cast includes a pair of twins conjoined at the pinky finger, a 120-year-old wise man, a shepherd turned cuckold by a giant, and even the Devil himself. The Financial Times says the book is a “Brilliantly rendered episodic tales of rural loss…. Peixoto’s evocation of pathos is tempered by a keen sense of the absurd. His ironic sensibility shines through beautifully in this translation.”

#8. The Migrant Painter of Birds

by Lídia Jorge

Lídia Jorge has received numerous prestigious prizes for her work and The Migrant Painter of Birds has been hailed as one of the best contemporary Portuguese novels.

The English-language publisher explains, “The setting of this extraordinary novel is an old farmhouse in Portugal – a house far enough from the Atlantic not to hear the breaking waves during a storm but near enough for the walls to be corroded by the salt in the air. With most members of her large family having left the hardship of life in this landscape of sand and stone for jobs in faraway places, a young woman struggles to piece together her past from the many and differing stories she is told.”

Beautifully written and imagined, this strikingly lyrical novel evokes the atmosphere of a rural community in a changing world and explores the themes of family, independence and emigration.

Did you know?

Did you know there is a new Navigator paper called Navigator Premium Book which is especially designed to promote the best reading experience? With this innovative product, Navigator positions itself as a key facilitator in the book publishing industry. The Portuguese paper brand believes reading has many benefits such as:

  • Promoting abstract thinking
  • Increasing creativity and imagination
  • Improving concentration, which leads to greater academic success

Would you like more reading inspiration?