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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

To read about movies and TV shows I'm watching, visit my other blog: Elliot's Watching

Monday, April 24, 2017

An alienated man and a great anti-war novel: The Land at the End of the Earth

Right to the end, Antonio Lobo Antunes's The Land at the End of the Earth stands as one of the great war, or I should say anti-war, novels of the 20th century. By the end, we see how service in the colonial war in Angola destroyed the narrator for life, making him isolated, cynical, unable to connect with his family, his ex-wife and their daughters, his profession, his home town, his native land - or with anyone in any sort of normal, healthy relationship. The novel is structured as the narrator's account of his life, particularly his wartime service, to a woman he meets in a bar; he chats her up through the night - almost every chapter includes some moments of his addressing this woman - in a clumsy seduction attempt, one of many evidently - this one ultimately leading to "success," as they go back to his apartment and have sex and continue the dialog, or monologue, until dawn when she leaves for work and the narrator reflects that he seems to like her (perhaps because she's an undemanding listener; he seems to be the one doing all the talking) but no doubt will never see her again. He is a completely alienated 20th-century man - although he does retain one faculty, and that's his extraordinary ability to convey the horrors of his wartime experience. As a narrator, he is engaged - and obsessed, like the Ancient Mariner (does translator Margaret Jull Costa make this comparison in her helpful intro?). Yes, war is hell - but his narrative goes beyond that, in eviscerating the hypocrisy and corruption of this particular war of colonial aggression, believed to be in the best interest of the conquered African nations but actually just propping up the wealth of the Portuguese aristocrats and the generals safe in their offices in the capital. Final note: in an earlier post I said there were 26 chapters arranged alphabetically (A thru Z); in fact, there are only 23 chapters, as the Portuguese language doesn't use three letters of the Roman alphabet (k,w, and y).

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