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The Return of the Caravels by António Lobo…
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The Return of the Caravels (1988)

by António Lobo Antunes

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The Portuguese Soul: "As Naus" by António Lobo Antunes Wenn ich dieses Buch in fünf Minuten zusammenfassen könnte, was könnte ich schreiben? Der Versuch den Inhalt des Romans auf weninge Sätze zu reduzieren, ist es sehr schwer.

Camões wander durch die Strassen von Lissabon und schleppt den Sarg mit dem Leichnam seines Vaters mit sich – für mich ein Symbol für das portugiesiche Weltreich. Ich könnte hinzufügen: stellen Sie sich einen Camões vor, der durch “Lixboa” streift und in einem Sarg seinen verwesenden Vater mitbringt, einen Pedro Álvaro Cabral, der nach seiner Verflucht aus “Loanda” nun von dem “Milizen der UNITA” verfolgt wird und sich von seiner Frau, einer dunkelhäutigen Prostituierten, aushalten lässt, einen Heiligen Francisco Xavier, der als Zuhälter arbeitet, einen Pater António Vieira, der in betrunkenem Zustand Predigten halt, einen pensionerten Vasco da Gama, der dem Kartenspiel verfallen ist und mit einem König D. Manuel, der eine Blechkronte trägt, in einem rostigen Ford Cabrio durch die Stadt fährt, der wahnsinnige D. Sebastião ist ein Drogenanhängiger, der in Tanger von Oskcar Wilde in seinem Streit um eine Beutel Gras niedergestochen wird und stirbt usw.

If anyone out there wishes to buy it, can find here a superb English translation by none other than the also superb Gregory Rabassa (one the greatest living translators of Portuguese literature into English).

If you're into posts written in German, English and Portuguese, read the rest of the review on my blog. ( )
  antao | Dec 10, 2016 |
When I begun reading this novel I had little knowledge of Portuguese history, beyond the fact that it had once been one of the great colonial empires of Europe. I soon realised that I had better educate myself at least as regards the basics since the main theme of the novel is the dissolution of this empire. Following the Carnation Revolution in 1974 Portugal abandoned its colonies in Africa and India. One effect of this was the return home of more than half a million Portuguese who used to live there. One can only imagine both the economic and social impact on a small and now poor country like Portugal.

And so with the aid of a surreal narrative full of spatial shifts between Lisbon and the colonies, where the present and the past are conflated, we follow Vasco da Gama and the other heroes of Portugal’s age of exploration as they make their undignified way home. A hallucinatory stream of images that are like the splintered fragments of a mirror, builds up an atmosphere of lurid squalor, decomposition and corruption.

In an age where the great colonial empires are no longer revered but rather questioned as to the ethics behind them and the evil they helped bring on other people we find the great heroes reduced to roles we tend to associate with the dregs of society: pimps, paedophiles, drunkards, gamblers and charlatans. Where they so great after all, since they were complicit in the creation of something nowadays regarded as evil? Did the complicity of the real ‘retornados’, with which apparently they were stigmatised, justify the hostile welcome they received on their return to the homeland?

I have deliberately avoided giving examples of images encountered in the novel for all that they were powerful and striking (on occasion even funny). In the absence of a coherent plot I feel that the greatness of this book consists of this gradual building up of an atmosphere and to give anything away would in this case constitute a spoiler. But I would encourage anybody who is not afraid of a difficult post modern voice to give this novel a try. It is well worth the effort. ( )
  marina61 | May 11, 2013 |
Doctor Antunes begins this celebration of the return of the poet Luis de Camoes, the author of the 1572 "Lusiads", Portugal's Iliad (celebrating the maritime discoveries of Vasco da Gama), with a funeral which had been postponed by bureaucratic bumbling, with the long-dead body seething "with a fervor of worms". National history, as an imploded corpse that will not remain in its grave.
  keylawk | Aug 8, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0802139558, Paperback)

Called "hallucinatory and lyrical" (Publishers Weekly), The Return of the Caravels -- selected as a New York times Summer Reading title -- is a powerful indictment of Portuguese colonialism and another literary tour de force from the pen of Antonio Lobo Antunes, "the greatest living Portuguese writer" (Vogue). It is set in Lisbon as Portugal's African colonies gain their independence in the mid-1970s. In a contemporary response to Camoes's conquest epic The Lusiads, Antunes imagines Vasco da Gama and other heroes of Portuguese explorations beached amid the detritus of the empire's collapse. Or is it the modern colonials -- with their mixed-race heritage and uneasy place in the "fatherland" -- who have somehow ended up in sixteenth-century Lisbon? As da Gama begins winning back ownership of Lisbon piece by piece in crooked card games, four hundred years of Portuguese history mingle -- the caravels dock next to Iraqi oil tankers, and the slave trade rubs shoulders with the duty-free shops. The Return of the Caravels is a startling and uncompromising look at one of Europe's great colonial powers, and how the era of conquest reshaped not just Portugal but the world. "... the voice of Nabokov by way of Cortazar, Gogol by way of Dylan." -- Jonathan Levi, Los Angeles Times Book Review "Antunes has empathy for the contradictions of human feeling. He is a warm-bloodied writer."-- Michael Pye, The New York Times Book Review "[Antunes] deserves a wide audience of discerning readers." -- Michael Mewshaw, The Washington Post Book World

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:18 -0400)

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