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The Land at the End of the World: A Novel by…
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The Land at the End of the World: A Novel (1983)

by António Lobo Antunes

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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The Land at the End of The World by Antonio Lobo Antunes

The narrator, a middle-class Portuguese medical student is encouraged by his family to join the Army and go to Angola to fight the war that the Dictator Salazar was fighting to save Portugal’s false glory and his own grip on power. Sadly…

“True to the family prophesy, I had become a man: a kind of sad, cynical greed made up of lascivious despair, egotism, and an eagerness to hide from myself had replaced forever the fragile pleasure of childish joy, of open, unreserved laughter, embalmed in purity, and which at night, when I’m walking home down a deserted street, I seem to hear, echoing at my back like a mocking cascade.”

Antunes, a psychiatrist, who himself served as a doctor in Angola in the 1970s tells this tale of a medic whose experience in the war changes him forever.

Through an ample dose of magical metaphors and poetic phrasing Antunes’ creative imagination can, at times, dazzle and overwhelm the effects of this war on both the African populace and the soldiers who are held in check by Salazar’s secret police.

The narrator is doomed, witnessing what he does, he becomes a sad, depressed and disillusioned man, cut off from family he drinks, loses sleep and the ability to love another person. Back in Lisbon he tells his tale to an unnamed lover as he relates how the war changed him.

“deep down of course, it is our own death that we fear when we imagine someone else’s – and that is what makes cowards of us all”.

There is a fair amount of sexual description which relates how he was loved well by an Angolan native recounting their lovemaking like, “making love to one another, as furiously as rhinoceroses with toothaches”. Yet his sexuality fades as do most of his other desires.

In the end this is a daunting, poetic indictment of dictatorships, war and imperialism. Antunes in his writing is as persuasive as Clarence Darrow and creative as both Pablo Neruda and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

A classic literary work, a cautionary tale, considered one of the great books of modern day Portuguese literature. ( )
  berthirsch | Aug 9, 2018 |
I loved particular sections in this book, but overall I had a hard time connecting with it. Perhaps it was the translation so I plan on reading another one of his novels to see. ( )
  PagesandPints | Sep 1, 2016 |
While António Lobo Antunes' writing was not yet fully formed from the beginning of career, he already had developed his own, distinctive style - anyone who has read Elephant’s Memory will immediately recognise The Land at the End of the World (Os Cus de Judas in the Portugese original, also published in English as South of Nowhere or in German – the version I have read – as Der Judaskuss) as the work of the same author – it has the same fluidity, the constant shifting of place and time and even between first and third person, the same unrelentingly bitter and angered gaze on Portugal and human existence in general, and above all, it has the same language, the same long periods that sprawl in all directions while heaping metaphors upon metaphors. building towards a precarious but extremely fascinating novel-construct.

Like its predecessor, this second novel of António Lobo Antunes is at least partially autobiographical, and like before, there is some kind of framing narrative (this time the narrator telling his story to a woman in a bar which he then takes home and sleeps with – personally, I’d like to think that this is the same woman the narrator of Elephant’s Memory meets towards the end of that novel, so that the later work would be nested inside of the earlier one, but there is not really any indication for that), a framing narrative that surrounds and somewhat anchors the narrator reminiscing about his life in no particular order and jumping between times and places apparently at random.

As noticeable as the similarities are, there are a number of differences as well: The Land at the End of the World has a closer focus both in its framing (just an evening instead of a whole day, and involving only two people) and its central narrative, which concerns itself exclusively with the colonial war in Angola in which Antunes served as a medical officer. Apparently, it was to a great degree this subject matter – the Angolan war being something one did not really talk about in Portugal back in 1979 when the novel was first published – which made the release of this novel a scandal and Antunes a popular author in his home country. As was to be expected from his first novel, Antunes does not pull any punches in his depiction of the war, he is relentlessly grim whether writing about the Portuguese colonialists or the Angolan rebels, whether he describes the atrocities of the war, the thoughtless cruelty of the Portuguese towards the natives or the squalor and misery the Angolans are forced to exist in. The Land at the End of the World may not be fuelled by the hot fury that propels Elephant’s Memory, the narrator’s gaze is much colder in this book, his attitude more detached, even clinical at times, but this only serves to make it all the bleaker.

In sharp contrast to the misery man seems to spread everywhere he goes (and while Antunes’ apparent subject is very specifically Portugal, I don’t doubt that, in this as in all his other novels, it is at the same time the conditio humana in general that he describes, his regionalism being a means to represent the universal – one of the reasons, I presume, why he is so often compared to William Faulkner), and in fact the only relief from it, are the occasional, rare glimpses of untouched nature which Antunes describes with great, almost aching intensity. Not that the rest of his writing was any less intense; in fact, in the end it is the prose far more than the subject matter of The Land at the End of World which makes this an outstanding and enduring novel, the first of Lobo Antunes' masterworks. While the author still piles metaphors upon metaphors, the imagery in his second novel is much more under control than it was in the first - there is an actual purpose to the images, and a structure that even with all the twists and turns the narrator takes makes him return to the same places, the same images. Scenes and events are visited several times, explored from different angles and under different illuminations, and it becomes clear that the narrator will never be done with them, that his experiences in Angola have marked him for life. And there are recurring images, indeed many of them related to visibility - a particular prominent one is that of rays of light illuminating something at an angle: An image, I think, of Antunes' poetical method, the way his prose creates a kind of chiaroscuro, illuminates by obscuring, reveals by clothing in metaphor. If Elephant's Memory was the promise of a great writer, then The Land at the End of the World is the fulfillment of that promise - and only the first of many to come.
1 vote Larou | Apr 16, 2016 |
This made me sad. ( )
  Phyllis.Mann | Jul 13, 2015 |
The author, who is a medical doctor, specialized in psychiatry, digests first-hand experiences in an Angolan hospital during Portugal’s Colonial War.
  hbergander | Dec 12, 2011 |
Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
“The Land at the End of the World,” newly translated by Margaret Jull Costa, was originally published in 1979, four years after Portugal’s withdrawal from Africa and the final collapse of America’s intervention in Vietnam. At that time it was interpreted as a comment on the inherent futility of those recent Western adventures in the third world. But read at more than 30 years’ remove from those events much of this account of what Mr. Lobo Antunes’s narrator calls a “painful apprenticeship in dying” would no doubt make sense to survivors of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
 

» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Antunes, António Loboprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Lemmens, HarrieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Weissová, LadaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Wat ik vroeger altijd het mooiste vond in de dierentuin was de rolschaatsbaan onder de bomen, met de zwarte leraar die kaarsrecht, zonder een spier te bewegen, langzaam achterstevoren rondjes trok over het cement, omringd door meisjes in korte rokjes en witte laarsjes die, als ze iets hadden gezegd, ongetwijfeld van die verbandgaasstemmen zouden hebben gehad waarmee in luchthavens het vertrek van de vliegtuigen wordt omgeroepen, watten lettergrepen die in je oren smelten zoals het laatste restje van een snoepje op de schelp van de tong.
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In The Land at the End of the World, one of the twentieth century's most original literary voices delivers a haunting and heartrending meditation on the absurdities of love and war. Considered to be Antonio Lobo Antunes's masterpiece, The Land at the End of the World-now in a new and fully restored translation by Margaret Jull Costa-recounts the anguished tale of a Portuguese medic haunted by memories of war, who, like the Ancient Mariner, will tell his tale to anyone who listens. The narrator, recently returned to Lisbon after his hellish tour of duty in Angola, confesses the traumas of his memory to a nameless lover. Their evening unfolds like a fever dream, as Lobo Antunes leaps deftly back and forth from descriptions of post-dictatorship Portugal to the bizarre and brutal world of life on the front line. The result, both tragic and absurd, belongs among the great war novels of the modern age.… (more)

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