Journey to Portugal: In Pursuit of Portugal's History and Culture

Overview

When José Saramago decided some twenty years ago to write a book about Portugal, his only desire was that it be unlike all other books on the subject, and in this he has certainly succeeded. Recording the events and observations of a journey across the length and breadth of the country he loves dearly, Saramago brings Portugal to life as only a writer of his brilliance can. Forfeiting sources of information such as tourist guides and road maps, he scours the country with the eyes and ears of an observer ...

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Journey to Portugal: In Pursuit of Portugal's History and Culture

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Overview

When José Saramago decided some twenty years ago to write a book about Portugal, his only desire was that it be unlike all other books on the subject, and in this he has certainly succeeded. Recording the events and observations of a journey across the length and breadth of the country he loves dearly, Saramago brings Portugal to life as only a writer of his brilliance can. Forfeiting sources of information such as tourist guides and road maps, he scours the country with the eyes and ears of an observer fascinated by the ancient myths and history of his people. Whether an inaccessible medieval fortress set on a cliff, a wayside chapel thick with cobwebs, or a grand mansion in the city, the extraordinary places of this land come alive with kings, warriors, painters, explorers, writers, saints, and sinners. Always meticulously attentive to those elements of ancient Portugal that persist today, Saramago examines the country in its current period of rapid transition and growth.

Infused with the tenderness and intelligence that have become familiar to his readers, Saramago's Journey to Portugal is an ode of love for a country and its rich traditions.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
A good travel book will bring to life its far-flung locale; a great one will transport you to the place and illuminate its soul. Portuguese author José Saramago accomplishes the latter in his sensuously detailed Journey to Portugal, which vividly recounts a trip he took across Portugal in 1979, 19 years before he won the Nobel Prize in Literature. In the book's short introduction he says he embarked on his odyssey wanting "to write a book on Portugal that [would be] capable of offering a fresh way of looking, a new way of feeling." Comprised of novelistic passages, travel logs, photographs, and guidebook entries, Journey to Portugal brilliantly achieves this goal.

Like Thoreau's The Maine Woods, Journey to Portugal starts in the corporeal world and evolves into an internal journey as well. Calling himself "the traveller," Saramago treks across the country with little itinerary, stopping where he is intrigued, moving on when he feels restless. In each location he evokes the textures of landscape, architecture, and people, listening to the stories they tell. Families invite him in for meals. Others share their grief. At one cemetery, the gravedigger relates the anecdote of a soldier who was hanged when his best friend borrowed his uniform and killed a girl. Saramago delicately captures the agony simmering beneath the skin of the culture.

From the beginning, Saramago infuses his book with a deep understanding of Portuguese and European history. Each gravesite, bottle of proffered brandy, and slice of bread whet his hunger for the past, spurring him on to the next day's adventure. Not surprisingly, as with Henry Miller's The Colossus of Marousi, Saramago learns more about his country from its people, as opposed to the monuments. In isolated villages, he glimpses the Portugal of yore, willfully ignoring the modern era.

But while Journey to Portugal offers much in the way of description and history, it is Saramago's own internal transformation that gives this book its authenticity and heft. Like W. G. Sebald, Saramago recognizes that the human soul is a prism through which history refracts in colorful, if illusory ways. Still, he perseveres. At one monument, he achieves communion: "Beneath its stones the traveller retires from the world. He slips back into a five-thousand-year-old history, when men used the strength of arms to raise this enormously heavy slab of stone…. The traveller sits down on the sandy floor, holding a tender sprig sprung beside the flagstone between his fingers, and drops his head to listen to his own heartbeat." By the end of this elegant, important book, the heart of Portugal beats in us, too. (John Freeman)

From The Critics
A shattering work by a literary master.
Los Angeles Times
Saramago's gentle voice rings with the unmistakable authority of the true artist. <%END%>
Boston Globe
A shattering work by a literary master.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 1979, 19 years before he won the Nobel Prize for literature, Portuguese novelist Saramago (Blindness) journeyed across his homeland, hoping "to write a book on Portugal that [would be] capable of offering a fresh way of looking, a new way of feeling" about the country's history and culture. Out of that personal quest comes this monumental work, a literary hybrid that intermingles an intimate portrait of a nation with aspects of a novel, travel log and guide book. From the outset, a deep sense of Portuguese and European history pervades Saramago's descriptions, which evince a longing for the past whose fragments lie in every crevice, niche and portico. For example, upon seeing "traces of ancient anti-Spanish rancor in the form of obscene graffiti scored into good 15th-century stone" in Miranda do Douro, he recalls a 17th-century siege that took place in the small town. Later on in his trip, standing in the ruins of a church, he muses, "[T]he day before yesterday the Romans were here; yesterday it was the turn of the monks of Sao Cucufate; today it's the traveler." Saramago's absolute attachment to his homeland filters through every paragraph, impelling him to create a new vision of the country: a vision that aims to meld Portugal's past to its present and future. The reader may find the author's use of the third person when speaking of himself rather tedious, and some drawn-out sections waffle in personal, almost mystical, reflections. But it is difficult to resist being enchanted by the witty, at times sarcastic reveries of a man in search of his land, its history and himself. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
For many Americans, Portugal is a distant relative of Spain, a country whose glory has vanished since the days of Henry the Navigator and his discoveries in the New World. Saramago, winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature, writes to dispel this notion. The author originally wrote this book to show his compatriots his deep love for the history, traditions, and countryside of his native land, and his passion for his subject shines through on every page. The many black-and-white photographs will familiarize the reader with some of the more obscure locations discussed here. Unfortunately, Saramago's use of the third-person narrative throughout the text gives it a stilted, artificial tone that distracts from the information presented. Further, Saramago is so deeply involved in his topic that he can be obscure to readers unfamiliar with the details of Portuguese history and culture. Some notes are available, and the maps and index are excellent. Recommended for larger travel collections where introductory travel guides to Portugal are already available. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/00.]--Olga B. Wise Compaq Computer Corp. Austin, TX Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR JOURNEY TO PORTUGAL

"The personality that makes the book worth your while is that of Saramago,
the unmistakable voice that hovers over his fictional world and now, over the real world of his native Portugal."—The Seattle Times/Post Intelligencer
"In observances both wry and soulful, Saramago makes this travelogue a page-turner."—Travel & Leisure

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780151005871
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 3/25/2001
  • Pages: 464
  • Product dimensions: 6.13 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

JOSÉ SARAMAGO (1922–2010) was the author of many novels, among them Blindness, All the Names, Baltasar and Blimunda, and The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. In 1998 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations vii
Author's Preface to the English Edition ix
I From Northeast to Northwest: the Douro and the Duero
1 The Sermon of the Fishes 3
2 The Wicked Ways of Dossel 15
3 The Fiery Waters of the River de Onor 24
4 The Story of the Soldier Jose Jorge 28
5 The Devil's Temptations 33
6 The Stately Home 41
7 The Tame Wolf's Cave 47
8 Passionate Animals 53
9 Where Camilo is Not 60
10 Sleeping Beauty's Castle 67
11 Of Headaches and Other Miracles 75
12 An Even Bigger House 82
13 The Girls of Castro Laboreiro 91
14 St George Sets Forth on Horseback 100
15 Food for the Body 106
16 Mount Everest of Lanhoso 116
17 "Beside the River They Call the Douro" 123
II Lowlands Beside the Ocean
1 Endless Waters 132
2 At Home with the Marquess of Marialva 142
3 Not Every Ruin is a Roman Ruin 150
4 Coimbra Climbs, Coimbra Falls 159
5 A Castle Fit for Hamlet 167
6 At the Mountains' Gateway 174
III Soft-Stone Beiras, Be Patient
1 The Man Who Could Not Forget 181
2 Bread, Cheese and Wine in Cidadelhe 186
3 How Malva Got its Name 194
4 A Grain of Corn Away from Being Lisbon 202
5 New Temptations of the Devil 209
6 King of Cards 217
7 Highs and Lows 226
8 The Town of Stone 228
9 The Ghost of Jose Junior 238
10 "Hic Est Chorus" 246
IV From Mondego to Sado, Stopping All the While
1 One Islands, Two Islands 257
2 Arts of Water and Fire 263
3 Friars, Warriors and Fishermen 272
4 The Oldest House 282
5 So Near and Yet so Far 288
6 Captain Bonina 295
7 The Name in the Map 304
8 There Was Once a Slave 311
9 Paradise Encountered 318
10 At the Gates of Lisbon 325
11 They Say It's a Good Thing 328
12 Chimneys and Orange Groves 349
V The Vast and Burning Lands of Alentejo
1 Where the Eagles Rest 357
2 A Rose Flower 365
3 One Ancient Stone, One Man 371
4 The Destruction of Nests is Prohibited 380
5 The Night the World Began 391
6 Looking and Leaping 404
7 The Italians in Mertola 415
VI Of the Algarve, Sun, Dry Bread and Soft Bread
1 The Director and his Museum 423
2 Portuguese as She is Not Spoken 432
3 The Traveller Sets Out Again 443
Index 444
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