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

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Friday, April 21, 2017

Two passages from Antunes's The Land at the End of the Earth

I'm gonna break w/ past practice and quote a passage or two from Antonio Lobo Antunes's 1979 novel The Land at the End of the World because I can't think of another way in which to convey his beautiful imagery and unusual perspectives, reminiscent only of Proust perhaps, though in an entirely different milieu - the Portuguese colonial war in Angola as perceived by a military doctor, his postwar depression, his disgust w/ and contempt for the Salazar dictatorship, the horrors of military action (some of this reminiscent of the American Vietnam-era literature and to a lesser degree of all anti-war literature as seen from combatants, such as Catch 22), and of sexual longings unfulfilled. Here, almost at random, is the opening sentence to Chapter F (novel has 26 chapters, id'd by letters in alphabetical order, not sure of the significance if any): "Have you ever noticed how at this hour of the night and with this amount of alcohol in your blood, the body begins to emancipate itself from you, refusing to light your cigarette, grasping your glass with a certain tactile clumsiness, wandering about inside your clothes with a gelatinous fluidity?" Note how he does not talk about the drunk's losing control of his body; rather, the opposite: the body freeing itself from the person. Or this, literally selected by random opening of book: "I tried to perform heard massage, but his chest was soft and boneless and it crunched beneath my hands, like a sort of pulp, an explosion was all it took to turn Macaco into a rag-and-sawdust puppet, the captain disappeared again into the mess hut and returned with more whisky in his glass, the plain began to drain of color, announcing the coming of night, the medic, still saying Fuck fuck fuck, came and crouched next to us, under our breath we were all saying Fuck, the captain was whispering Fuck into his whisky, the duty officer standing to attention before teh flag, his fingers adjusting his beret, was screaming Fuck, the moist imploring eyes of the stray dogs sniffing at our ankles were moaning Fuck, their eyes as supplicating as those of the people in this bar tonight [note: he is addressing a woman in a bar at about 2 a.m.], moist with resignation and a stupid kind of tenderness, eyes adrift about their glasses of Cognac ... " - and so forth. You can see that this is like a prose poem (does it remind anyone of Michael Casey's great Vietnam poems, Obscenities?) yet also note the shift in perspectives - from the action in the field, to the reactions of those around, from realism to anthropomorphism (the dogs) to a present-day (1979) setting in a bar, sad in disillusioned but so distant from the war except in memory and scars. Many props at translator Margaret Jull Costa - and not that English translation did not appear until 2011 - three decades+ after publication. No wonder Antunes has not been properly recognized as a leading world writer (if this novel represents his overall work) - a travesty.

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