By October 15, 2008 2 Comments Read More →

Librarian in Iberia, Part 3

From Madrid, a night train (called, ominously, The Lusitania) will take you west over the border into Lisbon. You can even take this journey in the pages of two books: The Night Train to Lisbon is an enjoyable romantic spy tale by Emily Grayson and also a philosophical meditation by Pascal Mercier.

Lisbon is the final stop on my literary sojourn. I hope these posts have not only introduced you to good books but shown how your book group can use a geographical setting as an excellent theme for a monthly meeting. As each reader introduces his or her book, an interesting picture of the place will take form. It’s a great pastime for armchair travelers!

BlindnessAny discussion of Portugal and books must begin with Nobel-laureate Jose Saramago. Often reading as fables or allegories, his works impose slightly fantastic events on his country as a means of exploring the human condition. Journey to PortugalIf that sounds too arty, don’t be put off, this is very readable fiction. He plays with Portuguese history in Baltasar and Blimunda or The History of the Siege of Lisbon. He chops the Iberian peninsula off of the European continent in The Stone Raft. He sends a plague to an unnamed city (I think it’s Lisbon) in Blindness and has its populace cast blank ballots in Seeing.  If you prefer nonfiction, you can read the travelogue he wrote about 1979 journeys in his own country Journey to Portugal.

Less known than Saramago outside Portugal, his literary rival Antonio Lobo Antunes is almost as important to contemporary Portuguese literature. Try his four part historical fiction exploration of his homeland, beginning with An Explanation of the Birds, or follow the life of one family during the rule of Antonio Salazar in The Inquisitors’ Manual.

Over the Edge of the WorldThe height of Portuguese power came much earlier, when the country’s explorers went intrepidly around the world. For a taste of this history, try Laurence Bergren’s excellent study of Magellan’ s voyage Over the Edge of the World or read the life of the visionary leader who started the explorers on the way in Peter Russell’s biography of Prince Henry the Navigator.

Adam RunawayFor something much lighter try the picaresque adventures of Adam Runaway. Peter Prince’s novel follows a foppish Englishman who voyages to Lisbon to apprentice with his uncle and try to restore his family’s fortune and honor. But 18th-century Lisbon is a mixture of the corrupt and the overpious and our hero is easily distracted, especially by the opposite sex. Worst of all, a big earthquake looms in his future.

The MaiasJump forward to the late 19th century to discover another marvelous tale of a young scion in complex Lisbon society. Jose Maria Eca de Queiros wrote the classic The Maias near the time of its setting: 1888. Interest in his superb fiction was revived by the successful film adaptation of The Crime of Father Amaro and this is one writer who definitely deserves renewed attention.

Most of Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series is set in Spain, but at least two entries in the superb series cross the border for Napoleonic-era battles in Portugal. It isn’t critical to read the series in order, so you can jump directly to Sharpe’s Havoc or Sharpe’s Escape if you like. Follow the intrepid Englishman from the beginning of his military career in India with Sharpe’s Tiger if you want to take on the whole 21-book series.

A Cottage in PortugalI’ll close my trip with the Hewitt family, who fell in love with A Cottage in Portugal. A family version of Peter Mayle’s Provence books or Frances Mayes’ Tuscan adventures, this is the gentle story of a fish-out-of-water New England couple who think they have found the quiet life in Portugal but discover that local bureaucracy may create a different result. The Portuguese people are described as generous and funny, and the beauty of the landscape is conveyed by husband Richard’s prose and wife Barbara’s illustrations.

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About the Author:

Neil Hollands is an Adult Services Librarian at Williamsburg Regional Library in Virginia, where he specializes in readers’ advisory and collection development. He is the author of Read On . . . Fantasy Fiction (2007) and Fellowship in a Ring: a Guide for Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Groups (2009).

2 Comments on "Librarian in Iberia, Part 3"

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  1. ben.youl@tiscali.co.uk' James Joyce says:

    Well researched site – I love Bernard Cornwell’s work! – Will look to incorporate some of your ideas into my site. Thanks!

  2. emre.turkey@gmail.com' eca says:

    Book Group Buzz – Discussion of Book Clubs, Reading Lists, and Literary News – Booklist Online » Blog Archive » Librarian in Iberia, Part 3 great article thank you.
    Eca ana bayisinden sevgilerle

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