Susana Moreira Marques’s masterpiece “Now and at the Hour of Our Death,” a work of reportage about life and death set in a village in northern Portugal, is an example of the best contemporary Portuguese writing available in translation. As for poetry, “Cape Verdean Blues,” by Shauna Barbosa, will give you a sense of the multifaceted character of Cape Verdean culture in the diaspora. “What’s in a Name,” by the great Ana Luísa Amaral, will incite you to look with wonder into the minutiae of everyday life.
What books can give me a sense of life under the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar?
The regime instituted by Salazar in 1933 lasted until 1974. “The Three Marias: New Portuguese Letters,” by Maria Isabel Barreno, Maria Velho da Costa and Maria Teresa Horta, is an audacious and whimsical collective work against fascism. Considered “pornographic and a threat to public morality” when it was published, it led the government to put its authors on trial. “Empty Wardrobes,” a novel by Maria Judite de Carvalho, will give you a sense of domestic life under the dictatorship: In precise, unsentimental prose, it tells the story of three generations of women overshadowed by the death of a patriarch.
What books can give me a sense of the city’s colonial past?
The Portuguese empire, which included colonies in the Americas, Asia and Africa, was also one of the most enduring. Its legacy is vivid in Lisbon today.
To witness it, you can go to Cova da Moura, the home of a large community of migrants from countries including Cape Verde, Angola and Guinea-Bissau, among others, and pay a visit to Dentu Zona, a bookstore and silk-screen printing workshop where you will find a carefully curated selection of books about the city’s colonial past and works by major authors of African descent.
If you’re interested in reading more on this subject, there are many books and authors to choose from. “South of Nowhere,” one of António Lobo Antunes’s masterpieces, is a tense monologue told by an Angolan war veteran to a solitary woman he meets in a bar. A prose poem addressed to a silent interlocutor, and a memoir of the horrors of the war as witnessed by the author himself, it is a superb book with which to start.
Dulce Maria Cardoso’s “The Return” starts in Angola in 1975. The Salazar dictatorship has collapsed and the defeat of the Portuguese in the Angolan War of Independence is in sight. The narrator, Rui, is 15 years old. He is one of the thousands of settlers who are returning to Portugal, a place where he has never been. The novel will give you a sense of the contradictions and mythologies at play at the time of the Carnation Revolution, which led to the end of the dictatorship in 1974.