As some of you may know, I’m portuguese. And as in all countries, we have some obligatory books, by national writers, to read. Here are some of the most important one!
While starting to write this post, I realised that the most important works of portuguese literature are very close to my heart. I love them all, some less and some more. None of them are particularly easy reads but they are so good in their own ways. They are assigned to us in different years of school, according to our intelectual maturity. They are also VERY different books, except for two of them but I’ll talk about that later. All students hate these books but most importantly, they and their authors are incredibly important to this country’s culture. But I guess that’s why they are chosen to be thought to us and this is why I’m going to talk about them!
- O Memorial do Convento (en. Baltasar and Blimunda), by José Saramago
You might recognise the author’s name since I talked about him in a previous post. As I said back then, José Saramago, of all portuguese writers, is probably the one with the most international recognition since he won a Nobel Prize. You can find his books in lots of countries so you have no excuse to not give him a go.
The story takes place in the 18th century, during the construction of the Convent of Mafra, which is one of the top touristic attractions of my country (even though I haven’t visited it yet). It’s all the background to an amazing love story between Baltasar and Blimunda.
This book combines historical facts with surrealist moments. I’m not sure if the english or other languages versions keep the style of the author. He uses very little punctuation: only periods and commas (and even those don’t appear a lot). There’s no exclamation or question marks. And even no dialogue pause! So, as you can imagine, Saramago’s books are not a very easy read. His writing is so full of sentiments and beautiful imageries. I highly recommend any of his works.
- Os Lusíadas (en. The Lusiads), by Luís de Camões
Os Lusíadas is an epic tail of the discoveries done by the portuguese people during the 15th and 16th century. The great big difference between this book and the other epic stories is that there’s not only one hero: it’s a collective, the lusiads, the portuguese. My favourite episode is The Adamastor. Adamastor is the representation of fear itself. It’s an almost impossible threat to overcome. But even though it’s a terrible monster, never defeated before, the lusiads can overthrow him and continue with their path to glory.
This book has a particular way to show things in a vivid way. In the episode I just talked about, you can almost sense the fear of those seamen. Yet, they are so driven to achieve something great. That’s the feeling you get from this book. It’s a story of small people with great desires of accomplishments.
It’s not only a great work of portuguese literature because it’s about the discoveries but it’s also a constant reminder of how great my people used to be. After that, it was only a downhill but it’s important to remember the good times and try to work as hard as possible to be better again.
This one has great influence in a number of other national works, like the book I’m going to talk next.
- Mensagem (en. Message), by Fernando Pessoa
Fernando Pessoa is one of the most complex writers in the world. He had what he called heteronyms, which are kinda like pseudonyms but since he didn’t thought he could capture their true intellectual life, he gave them another name. Pessoa had nearly seventy five of these individual personalities, most of them having particular names and backgrounds, like Álvaro Campos, Ricardo Reis and Alberto Caeiro. You may know one of his books, that’s now published under his real name, The Book of Disquiet.
Mensagem is one of the few works of the author released under his own name. And it’s also a very particular work for the 20th century portuguese literature. It’s an epic, just like Os Lusíadas. It was written at a very low point of the country’s life, where the people were struggling and miserable. The author thought that the people needed to be reminded of all their great achievements in the past. We were so important during the discovery of the world. What happened to us?
This is probably one of my least favourite works we were assigned. I love Os Lusíadas but this one didn’t do much for me. But I really like the rest of the author’s works, especially from his main heteronyms. Besides all that, I think we should have another work like this one again. The portuguese people are more miserable than ever these days. And I think that the world forgets how much we did for them. Some cultures wouldn’t be the way they are without our footprints. But I guess we’re just another forgotten fallen empire.
- Os Maias (en. The Maias), by Eça de Queiroz
And now, leaving the depressing note of Mensagem, I’m going to talk about my absolute favourite! Os Maias is probably the most hated work around students, it’s even feared in the early years. So, of curse, I was a bit afraid to start it. The beginning is a bit boring; it’s a very long description of a house. But if you give it a try, you end up realising that it is all part of the style.
The book tells the story of three generations of the Maia family. It’s a bit impossible to talk about this book and avoid spoilers but let’s just say that it has a lot of plot twists for a book written in the 19th century. Eça de Queiroz is the funniest portuguese author! He is so ironic and sarcastic, just my kind of person.
I feel in love with Os Maias and ended up reading some others of the author’s books. I love how particular his style is. I love how he describes everything with such detail. It’s impossible not to envision every single thing. Even though it’s probably the most hated book by portuguese students, I love this one so much. I think that most people don’t enjoy it because it’s not a style they’re particularly familiar with. It takes some time for the action to start but when it does, it’s full of events. Also, it gives you a clear look on the society of the 19th century, not only in Portugal but also in Europe. If there’s a book from this list that I recommend, it’s definitely this one!
So, this is it guys! I hope you liked hearing about these books that you probably didn’t know about! Or if you did and didn’t like any of them, I hope that I at least gave you a different perspective. It’s always a pleasure to talk about books that are important to the overall literary world, national or international.
As always, thank you for reading.