As mentioned in a previous post, I was given a book by a colleague from school, to read as the first Portuguese book, since so far I had only read things translated into the language, never anything from an actual Portuguese author. Brazilian yes, but I got the point alright; that doesn’t count.
The book was Jerusalém, by Gonçalo M. Tavares. It was published in 2004 (I suppose) as the third book of a series of four, called “O Reino” (The Kingdom) – or Livros Pretos/Black Books; black for both the looks and the content.
The book is not very big, a very comfortable size indeed, and the letters are big (especially in comparison to the classics of English Literature I’ve been reading mainly, for some time now), so it was a rather fast read, and it didn’t take me more than three days to finish it. I’d like to point out here that I’m usually a very slow reader, unless I really want to read something. Or unless I’ve already read 3 other books, and I’ve really gotten to a good rhythm with it, as happened last summer with The Silence of the Lambs.
Anyways, before I get too far from the actual topic, better get back to the point.
When I first got the book, I had sat through half of a Marketing class (*shivers of boredom*), so I was so deep in my own thoughts I spent a while actually staring at it “the hell am I supposed to do with this”. And then I noticed the name and was just about to give it back. So all in all, not the best first impression of the work, but that’s okay, I guess. It got better. Eventually.
My basic opinion of the book was that it was good. It started out a bit awkward, but then again, don’t they all? And in the end I got bored of the repetition of what had come in the beginning, even though I knew why it was there. Just not my sort of technique.
Anyhow, the book has a lot of stuff, and I’m actually really happy I managed to read it so fast; I might have lost track of what was happening, since everything happens at the same time (including events from different times). Most likely the reason why this was so difficult for me was the simple fact that Portuguese verb tenses have never truly entered my fluffy pink brain and I had to sometimes stop and think when something was happening. (I shouldn’t feel dumb for saying that, should I?) But mostly, yes, I enjoy books where the story goes on without ever stopping still for too long, and that have lots of things in them to keep your brain busy. And there’s a lot in Jerusalem that would make you really think, too, if you wanted to think about things like that…
Which brings me to the negative aspects of the book. First of all, given my recent stress-levels and the fact I can get aggressive, or alternatively start moping around from the slightest hint of anything, this may not have been the best book to read at the moment. (Not saying The Passage is much better, but at least the possibility of that reality to come about is a little less distant.)
The other ‘negative’ thing I’d say is actually about the language used. Not the fact it was in Portuguese, although that’s a part of it, since I like to read ‘out loud’ to practice not only the understanding, but also the speaking of the language. The problem was the use of the more… I’d say ‘vulgar’ but that would make me seem like a total prude. The problem is that I’m not used to books having explicit references to sex and/or swearing, which is odd considering the fact that what comes out of my own mouth isn’t always that pure and perfect. It makes me awkward, especially when the book is suggested or given by someone else (we had to read Buddha of Suburbia for school, and it was just as awkward).
It’s like books are supposed to be something clean. Weird.
Well, at least it would help if you’re reading it out loud, I can tell you that much.
So basically the book tells a story of a woman, Mylia, who’s mentally unstable, let’s say, and is most likely going to die soon because of a problem in her intestines, or something similar. Something happens one night, and the whole of the work is explaining how it all started and what lead to this thing happening. In the mix are her ex-husband, ex-lover she met in a madhouse, their son, the director of the madhouse, a prostitute and some sort of a war-crazy ex-soldier with some clear mental issues as well. Essentially they are all nuts, in different ways, and the whole story explores this all through the book; madness and horror as they manifest in different ways throughout life and history.
Not a happy book.
But a good one nonetheless.
Even if it was in Portuguese.
I don’t know whether this particular work gives much of an image of the overall Portuguese literature, but I really enjoyed the way it was written, even if the feel of it was a little too harsh for my taste right at this moment in time, and I wouldn’t mind at all to actually have it at home for myself.
Oh, yes, and for those not interested in reading in Portuguese, apparently the books of the series are all translated into English as well, and quite obviously this one goes by the same name in the two languages.