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The City and the Mountains by Eça de…
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The City and the Mountains (1901)

by Eça de Queirós

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“Na Cidade nunca se olham, nem lembram os astros–por causa dos candeeiros de gás ou dos globos de electricidade que os ofuscam. Por isso nunca se entra nessa comunhão com o Universo que é a única glória e única consolação da Vida. Mas na serra, sem prédios disformes de seis andares, sem a fumaraça que tapa Deus, sem os cuidados que como pedaços de chumbo puxam a alma para o pó rasteiro–um João, um José, livres, bem jantados, nos poiais de uma janela, olham para os astros e os astros olham para eles. Uns, certamente, com olhos de sublime imobilidade ou de sublime indiferença. Mas outros curiosamente, ansiosamente, com uma luz que acena, uma luz que chama, como se tentassem, de tão longe, revelar os seus segredos, ou de tão longe compreender os nossos...” ( )
  tiagokz | Oct 4, 2017 |
Great book comparing the beauty and the traditional way of life in rural Portugal with the madness, modernism and boredom of big city Paris - 19th century Paris. ( )
  jon1lambert | Aug 1, 2015 |
An entertaining satire about city life and country life, marred a bit by the ending which is predictable and sentimental (although the ending was not finished by de Queiros – his friend completed it). Jacinto is well-educated and rich, has friends and lovers from the cream of Parisian society, lives in an enormous apartment with all the latest technological marvels, and has piles upon piles of books and knowledge of all the latest philosophies that are supposed to make him happy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he is not happy. When Ze Fernandes, the narrator, visits him after seven years away in the country, Jacinto is starting to get bored of the endless whirl of society visits, and then all his gadgets start malfunctioning. There are some good comical scenes with technology thwarting and attacking Jacinto. Even though the overall message is one of the falsity of city life compared to the real life going on in the country, de Queiros has leisurely, lovingly described depictions of all the society parties and characters and Jacinto’s luxurious life. He does continually poke fun at their affectations and contradictions, as well as at the sometimes-useless or malfunctioning machines. Jacinto becomes an ennui-ridden shut-in after vainly trying to give his life meaning with charity or philosophy, and he finally decides a change of scenery to his country estate might help. In true Jacinto fashion, though, his trip involves him boxing up most of the furnishings, gadgets, and stuff in his apartment and sending it to the estate.

Jacinto and Ze Fernandes run into trouble from the moment they arrive in the countryside. Although predictably Jacinto starts loving rural living and throws himself into the management of the estate, there are at least hints that some of it is just his usual quest for the new. Also, some of his good works are possible because of the feudal-type arrangement of country society (whereas his funding of institutions to help the poor in the city is rather remote). There are still the same leisurely descriptions of country life, and the author does poke fun at the beliefs of some of their neighbors as well as Jacinto’s overenthusiasm. The book probably seems slow by modern standards, but it was enjoyable and well-written. ( )
  DieFledermaus | Jul 6, 2015 |
After spending most of his life being part of the crème de la crème of Paris, Jacinto de Tormes returns with his friend José "Zé" Fernandes, our narrator, to his family estate in Portugal to see that the bones of his ancestors are properly installed in the newly renovated chapel, but once there, the people and vistas of the Portuguese countryside show him a completely different way of life and the discovery will change Jacinto's life forever.

Jacinto's Paris is full of interesting and cultured people, amazing invention and technological wonders, and a plethora of knowledge and art. It is a sumptuous world that satisfies and satisfies until it satiates and Jacinto's fascination becomes boredom and ennui, because, being at heart an idealist, he craves improvement and in the "perfect world" that is Paris, everything is already improved. So, when he reluctantly returns to the country and finds that he can be genuinely needed, the idealist has found his right place and the civilized life in Paris seems synthetic in comparison.

Eça de Queirós' story is a satire of the city's artificiality and the posturing of its people, a satire which eventually becomes outright mockery when juxtapositioned with the countryside's authenticity and its salt of the earth people. The story arc could certainly have been a lot more complex and the characters are sometimes allowed to wax philosophical in a less than subtle way, but Eça de Queirós' style is beautiful enough to make even those passages enjoyable.

Unfortunately, the ending (which was finished after Eça de Queirós' death by his close friend and sometime writing partner, Ramalho Ortigão) gets excessively flowery and should probably have been left out completely since the satire turns into pure pastoral idyll and loses the edge it had in the beginning. However, Eça de Queirós' descriptions of the Portuguese landscape makes up for any deficiency in the story and what starts out as a sharp and funny critique of "civilization" turns into a beautiful celebration of all things natural. ( )
1 vote -Eva- | Apr 3, 2015 |
It's impossible, I think, to rate this book in terms of some number of stars. It lives at such a remove from what the reader of today is expecting, such a rating would have no meaning whatsoever.

This is a work of satire, definitely a work of the late 19th century in its pacing and concerns. The story is a simple moral fable: a dissolute youth of Paris, wasting away amongst his books and his odd electrical contrivances, is induced to visit his estate in rural Portugal, where he finds contentment in the simple country life.

The satire is gentle, by modern standards. The writing is graceful, at least in Margaret Jull Costa's translation, and not especially fast-paced. I can easily imagine a contemporary reader losing interest about a third of the way through, when nothing much seems to have happened. That reader would not miss much, by their standards, because by their standards nothing much will happen.

However, it's a very enjoyable nothing-much that happens, and along the way we see anticipations of later satirists like Kingsley Amis and Evelyn Waugh, as well as a few moments worthy of Twain (the description of a meal in Paris at the end of a book is perfectly Twain: "...a fearful battle ensued between me and the flounder. The wretch, which had clearly taken against me, would not allow me to detach from its spine so much as a tiny fragment of flesh. It was as dry, burned, and impenetrable as shoe-leather, and my knife bent upon it, impotent and tremulous. I summoned the pallid waiter who, equipped with a sturdier knife, and pressing down hard upon the floor with the heels of his buckled shoes, finally managed to wrench from the stubborn creature two strips of flesh, as small and thin as toothpicks, which I swallowed in one, and which did little to assuage my hunger. I finished the cutlet off in one forkful. This cost me fifteen francs.") And while the novel seems to move from episode to episode without concern for consequence or continuity, this feels more like an echo of an older style of plotting and less like a failing of the novelist.

This is not a novel for everyon, but for someone interested in the dusty corners of the history of literature, it's a nice find. And how on earth do you express that as a rating in one, two, three, four, or five stars?
1 vote kiparsky | Sep 29, 2014 |
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"O meu amigo Jacinto nasceu num palácio, com cento e nove contos de renda em terras de semeadura, de vinhedo, de cortiça e de olival.
No Alentejo, pela Estremadura, através das duas Beiras, densas sebes ondulando pôr e vale, muros altos de boa pedra, ribeiras, estradas, delimitavam os campos desta velha família agrícola que já entulhava o grão e plantava cepa em tempos de el-rei d.Dinis. A sua Quinta e casa senhorial de Tormes, no Baixo douro, cobriam uma serra.
Entre o Tua e o Tinhela, pôr cinco fartas léguas, todo o torrão lhe pagava foro. E cerrados pinheirais seus negrejavam desde Arga até ao mar de âncora. Mas o palácio onde Jacinto nascera, e onde sempre habitara, era em Paris, nos Campos Elísios, nº. 202.
Seu avô, aquele gordíssimo e riquíssimo Jacinto a quem chamavam em Lisboa o D. Galião, descendo uma tarde pela travessa da Trabuqueta, "(…)
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E assim ascendi ao Paraiso. Decerto era o Paraiso porque com
meus olhos de mortal argila avistei o Ancião da Eternidade, aquelle que não tem Manhã
nem Tarde. N'uma claridade que d'elle irradiava mais clara que todas as claridades,
entre fundas estantes d'ouro abarrotadas de codices, sentado em vetustissimos folios,
com os flocos das infinitas barbas espalhados por sobre resmas de folhetos, brochuras,
gazetas e catalogos o Altissimo lia. A fronte super-divina que concebera o Mundo
pousava sobre a mão super-forte que o Mundo creára e o Creador lia e sorria. Ousei,
arrepiado de sagrado horror, espreitar por cima do seu hombro coruscante. O livro era
brochado, de tres francos... O Eterno lia Voltaire, n'uma edição barata, e sorria.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0811217019, Paperback)

Eça de Queirós's novel is a hymn to country life: The City and The Mountains satirizes the emptiness of city life and of modernity itself. Wonderfully funny, it bubbles with joie de vivre.

Born in Paris, Jacinto is the heir to a vast estate in Portugal which he has never visited. He mixes with the crème de la crème of Paris society, but is monumentally bored. And then he receives a letter from his estate manager saying that they plan to move the bones of his ancestors to the newly renovated chapel—would he like to be there? With great trepidation, Jacinto sets off with his best friend, the narrator, on the mammoth train journey through France and Spain to Portugal. What they discover in the simple country life will upend their own lives deliciously....

Newly translated by the acclaimed translator Margaret Jull Costa, New Directions is proud to publish The City and The Mountains, and to once again bring Eça de Queirós' brilliant prose to life.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:02 -0400)

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