José de Almada Negreiros: Nome de Guerra [Nom de Guerre]

The latest addition to my website is José de Almada NegreirosNome de Guerra [Nom de Guerre]. This is a Bildungsroman but also a mocking of the conventional romantic novel. Antunes, a thirty year old man from the provinces, is sent to Lisbon by his uncle in order to make a man of him. He is handed over to D. Jorge, a man who is both stupid and vulgar. He takes Antunes to a club where they get drunk but where they meet a young prostitute, Judith. Antunes falls for Judith, though both his gentlemanly upbringing and his nice girlfriend, Maria, back home, do give him some pause but, ultimately, he wants to experience the pleasures of a sexual adventure. He analyses his motives to death but it is clear (both to us and to him) what they are. Negreiros has his fun and, indeed, so does Antunes, realising that Judith is just an experience to go through and then move on. And Judith? Well, she knows that true love is not for her.

José de Almada Negreiros

Painting made for a café

Our weekend in Porto introduced me to José de Almada Negreiros, a Portuguese writer and artist, of whom, I admit, I had never heard before. The Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis is a museum named after António Soares dos Reis, the Portuguese sculptor who left many of his works to the museum, after committing suicide when only forty-one. Though the museum certainly has a section devoted to his works, it also has a collection of nineteenth and twentieth century Portuguese painting and a collection of decorative arts from earlier periods. More particularly, it currently has a special exhibition devoted to José de Almada Negreiros (link in Portuguese).

José de Almada Negreiros was born in 1893 in São Tomé and Príncipe. His father was a Portuguese cavalry lieutenant based in São Tomé and Príncipe while his mother was born on the island but died when her son was only three. His father was later posted to Paris but José and his brother were sent to boarding school in Lisbon. He graduated from the International School in Lisbon and, by now, was drawing and sketching, particularly satirical works. An exhibition of his work was held at the International School and it was there that he met Fernando Pessoa. As well as producing sketches, he was also writing poetry and other works for Orpheu, a progressive literary journal. He also designed a ballet. He published his first novel, A Engomadeira (it means a woman who starches and irons clothes) in 1915. (I have a copy which I hope to read some time in the not too distant future.)

He was also responsible for the famous Anti-Dantas Manifesto (link in Portuguese). Dantas was Júlio Dantas, a Portuguese playwright, who was fairly conventional. The Manifesto, supported by other prominent modernist Portuguese writers, including Fernando Pessoa, was a pro-modernist, anti-traditional manifesto. It caused quite a stir as Almada Negreiros did not hold back in his views. The text in Portuguese is here.

He spent time in both Paris and Madrid and became involved in a wide variety of artistic activities. In writing, he wrote novels, stories, poetry, plays and screenplays. He worked for a while as a dancer. He acted in films. He painted, he sketched, he designed. He married the artist Sarah Afonso (link in Portuguese). He died in 1970.

There is a wonderful description of his acting career in the exhibition:

I played the part of a very wicked aristocrat who gets killed right at the beginning. So, I was overjoyed. I got murdered in one of the first scenes, for kidnapping a girl. There was actually an incident sort of disastrous there. The girl was Maria Sampiao, and at some point, she fell from the horse we were riding, damn it! But I fell down with her… It was a very bad movie, a big mess, a beastly thing. I had to do a jump, a twenty-feet jump, from the top of a wall. Of course, I would lay (sic) down on my belly with outstretched arms, lower myself as much as possible on the wall and flip my legs over it. I could always pull it off just fine. Well, I used to be a gymnast […] I simply remember that it took them sixty-seven takes to kill me. And it was very hard for me to die, because I had to fall to the ground. Stabbed to death!

[Note that the English text is the translation used in the exhibition and not mine. The original Portuguese is not as badly written.]

Section of storyboard designed by Almada Negreiros for a film

As you can see, Almada Negreiros had a very varied career. Here is what he said about that:

I draw, I write, I sculpt, I do stained glass, I dance, I do theatre, I do cinema, and, if my art doesn’t speak through any of these voices, what can we do then? Just pretend that I am already dead – and that I left behind these posthumous works.

Many of his works can be seen at the Gulbenkian Museum in Lisbon. If any of them are available in the UK or US, I am not aware of them. Not surprisingly, none of his written work has appeared in English, the fate of most Portuguese writers, though one or two are available in French and Spanish. I hope to get to get round or one or two of them in the not too remote future. It seems to be stating the obvious when I say that he should be better known in the English-speaking world and undoubtedly would be, were he to be French or German. By the way, this exhibition sadly finishes on 18 March.

Livraria Lello, Porto

A long weekend in Porto revealed a few things, one of which is that it is wetter and colder in Porto than in (the South of) England. We visited the Livraria Lello, a bookshop famous for its appearance. As you can see from my not very good photo to the left, it is certainly an attractive interior. Indeed, J K Rowling, who spent two years teaching English in Porto, was inspired by it when she wrote Harry Potter. As a result the bookshop is permanently packed, mainly with Japanese tourists, taking photos. As a result the shop now charges an admission fee of €4, which you can put against any book purchase. However, while the interior is certainly attractive, the shop’s selection of Portuguese (and Portuguese-language) fiction was less so. They had a fairly pitiful selection – Saramago, of course, Eça de Queiroz, Miguel Torga, valter hugo mãe, who was their author of the month, but not his a máquina de fazer espanhóis [The Machine for Making Spaniards] and a few others but no Teolinda Gersão, no copy of José de Almada Negreiros’Nome de Guerra (see next post), a copy of which I found in the a chain book shop near by hotel, and a not a single one of the Portuguese books on my list to buy. It was even worse for other Portuguese-speaking countries. So go for the shop, particularly if you are a Harry Potter fan, but don’t bother going for the Portuguese literature.

Teolinda Gersâo: A cidade de Ulisses (City of Ulysses)

The latest addition to my website is Teolinda Gersâo‘s A cidade de Ulisses (City of Ulysses). Unusually for Gersâo, this novel is narrated by a man, Paulo Vaz, an artist. Vaz has been asked to contribute to an exhibition on Portugal and, in particular, focus on his view of Lisbon. He is reluctant to accept because he has already worked on such a project, with Cecilia, his now ex-girlfriend and one, apparently, whom he is no longer in touch with. We follow his back story, in particular his relationship with his parents (cruel military father and mother who taught him painting) and, of course, his relationship with Cecilia. We learn how the couple discovered Lisbon and discovered it both as the City of Ulysses but also as the unknown city, both unknown to the world at large but also, in parts, unknown to its own inhabitants. We also learn how and why the relationship ended, how both were changed by it and how Vaz is going to put forward their joint view but also their individual views of Lisbon, the city of Ulysses. It is not your typical Gersâo novel but still a very fine one.

Inês Pedrosa: Fazes-me Falta [I Miss You]

falta

The latest addition to my website is Inês Pedrosa‘s Fazes-me Falta [I Miss You]. This is a superb novel, which consists entirely of fifty small chapters, divided into two. The first part of the chapter is a woman talking, the second part a man talking. It soon becomes apparent that they are former lovers and that she is dead, talking from beyond the grave. This could be mawkish and trite but definitely is not. She has just died aged thirty-seven (we only learn how later in the book), while he is twenty-five years older and twice divorced. Both of them clearly regret that they did not talk more while she was alive. However, what they do do, is to dissect both their own lives and, more particularly, their relationship. While she can see him, she cannot hear him or read his mind so what makes this particularly interesting is their different perspectives on the same event or on the aspects of their respective characters. They are different – she is very political and is now a Member of Parliament. She is happy to jump on any bandwagon, when it looks as though people are being unfairly treated. He is more measured and conservative in his outlook, though he still favours fair treatment, though less stridently. However, she is religious, while he is not. They do examine their lives and have many regrets but, above all, as the title implies, they miss one another. Sadly this book is not available in English or, surprisingly, in French.

Gonçalo M. Tavares: Jerusalém (O Reino (The Kingdom) series) (Jerusalem)

jerusalem

The latest addition to my website is Gonçalo M. TavaresJerusalém (O Reino (The Kingdom) series) (Jerusalem). This is another gloomy, depressing book from Tavares. Much of it is set in the early hours of the morning in the usual unnamed city, with the main characters wandering around. The book eventually explains why they are where they are and who they are. Ernst Spengler is about to throw himself out of a window. Mylia Busbeck is in considerable pain and the doctors do not seem to be able to help. Her ex-husband, Theodor, future author of a seminal but controversial work on the relationship between history and atrocity, leaves his twelve-year old handicapped son, Kaas, to go and look for a prostitute. Kaas later wanders out himself. Finally, there is Hinnerk Obst, a former soldier who has returned from war with two things – a gun, which he threatens to use, and fear. The Georg Rosenberg Asylum and its strict director, Dr Gomperz, are a link to most of these characters. After an explanation of why they are where they are and who they are, we return to the city streets where things inevitably do not turn out well. It is grim and, at times unpleasant, but Tavares is showing us a view of the world which may have some validity for some people.

Gonçalo M. Tavares: Um Homem: Klaus Klump (O Reino (The Kingdom) series) (A Man: Klaus Klump)

klump

The latest addition to my website is Gonçalo M. TavaresUm Homem: Klaus Klump (O Reino (The Kingdom) series) (A Man: Klaus Klump). This is the first in the Kingdom series, though the last to be made available in English. I found it quite disappointing. It is short, written in staccato sentences and often pithy descriptions. The subject is clear. There is a war and war is very unpleasant, very unpleasant indeed. Virtually all the women in the city seem to get raped and there are many very gruesome incidents. Klump comes from a rich family but joins the resistance but is betrayed by Herthe, who makes her living betraying those in the resistance. He spends seven years in prison, stabs his father in the eye and escape and rejoins the resistance. Herthe marries a commander of the occupying army who is murdered by her brother (with her help) on her wedding day and later marries a very rich man. The war ends and everyone goes back to their normal routines. it is short, sharp and decidedly unpleasant. Yes, the point is made but it is not an enjoyable read.

Gonçalo M. Tavares: A Máquina de Joseph Walser (O Reino (The Kingdom) series) (Joseph Walser’s Machine)

walser

The latest addition to my website is Gonçalo M. TavaresA Máquina de Joseph Walser (O Reino (The Kingdom) series) (Joseph Walser’s Machine). As the title implies, Joseph Walser has a relationship with machines. He works in a factory, operating one (we do not know what it/he does). His boss, Klober Muller, tells him how dependent humans are on machines. And he himself considers that humans are not much more than sophisticated machines. His relationship changes when he is injured by the machine and has to have a finger amputated, so that he can no longer operate the machine. He becomes a clerk. Walser lives in an unnamed European city, probably, judging by the names, somewhere in Central Europe. He is married to Margha, though he later learns she is having an affair with Klober Muller. He collects small bits of metal. He is conventional, a daydreamer and a sloppy dresser. His only real excitement, apart from his job and metal collection, is his Saturday night with a few workmates, playing dice.

maquina

There is a war on, as the city is being invaded but neither he nor most of the inhabitants of the city seem too bothered by this. However, once the invading army takes over, one of of Walser’s dice-playing friends proposes resistance. Walser is not interested. However, the resistance does take place, with bomb attacks on the occupying forces. Walser keeps away from the dice game. While the human-machine relationship is key, Tavares puts up Joseph as something of the ordinary man – generally solitary, a good citizen, indifferent and unwilling to raise his head above the parapet, though, as we learn later in the book, when he can get away with it, he will. Are we Joseph or do we judge him for his weaknesses? The book has a hint – though only a hint – of Kafka in it and is an interesting and thought-provoking work.

valter hugo mãe: o apocalipse dos trabalhadores [The Apocalypse of the Workers]

apocalipse

The latest addition to my website is valter hugo mãe‘s o apocalipse dos trabalhadores [The Apocalypse of the Workers]. mãe spells his name and writes all of his books in lower case, an annoying quirk. This novel tells the story of Maria da Graça, a cleaning lady for a rich man, Mr. Ferreira, who dreams of dying of love and going to heaven. Though Mr. Ferreira is thirty-six years older than she is, he has started an affair with her, initially by forcing himself on her. She is partially disgusted but partially flattered and, indeed, finds herself falling in love with him, helped by the fact that he is educating her by introducing her to Mozart, Goya, Proust and Bergman. She does not like her husband of seventeen years, Augusto, a fisherman, and is trying to poison him. Her best friend is Quitéria who is a part-time prostitute and a part-time professional mourner. She starts an affair with the much younger Andriy, an immigrant from Ukraine where the economic and political situation is difficult and his father, Sasha, is very paranoid. When Mr. Ferreira dies and Andriy does not hear from his parents, the life of the two women changes. This is another excellent book from mãe, about ordinary people dreaming their dreams and struggling to fulfil them.

valter hugo mãe: a máquina de fazer espanhóis [The Machine for Making Spaniards]

maquina

The latest addition to my website is valter hugo mãe‘s a máquina de fazer espanhóis [The Machine for Making Spaniards]. Note that he spells his name and writes his books entirely in lowercase. Apart from that annoying quirk, this really is an excellent novel. It tells the story of Antonio Silva, an eighty-four year old man whose wife, Laura, on whom he is very dependent, has just died. His children move him into an old people’s home where, initially, he is very unhappy but he gradually adapts, making friends with some of the other residents. But while that alone would make this an interesting novel, mãe, through Antonio, discourses on Portugal, both Portugal under Salazar and Portugal now, and is highly critical of the system damning religion, the police and the Salazar regime. Portugal has become, in his view, a machine for making Spaniards as the Portuguese want to be Spanish where they would have a better life. This idea is cleverly woven into the story, as the old people talk about it and we see what has happened to them, during their lives. Sadly, none of his work is available in English, though it is available in French, German and Spanish.