With nearly two dozen books to his name, António Lobo Antunes is unquestionably Portugal's greatest and most accomplished living novelist. There are many (myself not included) that believe the Swedish Academy awarded the 1998 Nobel Prize to the wrong Portuguese writer, though rumors persist that Lobo Antunes is an annual contender for the much coveted literary prize. His dense and powerful works are often compared to those of Joyce, Faulkner, and Céline, though he denies influence from either of the former.
The Land at the End of the World
(Os Cus de Judas
) is Lobo Antunes's second novel, originally published in 1979. The work has been published previously in English under the title South of Nowhere
, with a translation by Elizabeth Lowe (1983, Random House). This new rendering by Margaret Jull Costa bears the distinctive quality that one expects of her translations (Saramago, Marías, Pessoa, and Eça de Queirós). A side-by-side reading of the two English editions shows clearly that the new translation is much richer and more fluid than its predecessor. Margaret Jull Costa also translated The Fat Man and Infinity
, a fantastic collection of essays and short stories that demonstrates another side to Lobo Antunes's many literary talents.
The story relates the tale of a nameless narrator as he recounts his time serving as a medic in the Angolan interior during the Portuguese Colonial War. The Land at the End of the World
may well be Lobo Antunes's most autobiographical work, as he, too, spent over two years during the war as a medic. Nearly all of the book's action takes place in a bar as the narrator, while attempting to charm a woman he wishes to spend the night with, offers up the harsh details and inescapable memories of his time in the war zone. His long, dark, and often resentful monologues illustrate the timeless horrors of armed conflict and the lasting repercussions on individual lives and the nation as a whole. The narrator also muses upon the repressive Portuguese government and the factors that led up to the 1974 revolution.
We weren't mad dogs when we arrived here, I said to the lieutenant, who was seething with anger and indignation, we weren't mad dogs before the censored letters, the attacks, the ambushes, the mines, the lack of food and tobacco and cold drinks and matches and water and coffins, before we were told that a Berliet truck was worth more than a man and before we found out that the death of a solider merited just three lines in the newspaper, he died in combat in Angola, we weren't mad dogs, it's simply that we meant nothing to the mealy-mouthed State, who shat on us and used us as laboratory rats and who now at least are afraid of us, so afraid of our presence, of our unpredictable reactions and the remorse we represent that they cross the road if they see us coming, they avoid us, they don't want to face a battalion destroyed in the name of a lot of cynical ideas no one believes in, a battalion destroyed merely to defend the wealth of the three or four families who shore up the regime, the giant lieutenant turned to me, touched my arm and begged in a voice that was suddenly a child's voice, doctor, fix me up with some illness before I explode right here in the street from all the shit inside me.
António Lobo Antunes crafts remarkable prose full of vivid description and analogy. His writing is both visceral and cerebral, combining for an effect that is both haunting and breathtaking. Despite the horrific subject matter, Lobo Antunes manages to infuse the narrator with a dark humor that enlivens his character. While decrying rampant atrocity and state-sponsored neglect (or, rather, indifference), Lobo Antunes is still able to breathe a beauty into the work that contrasts sharply with the emotions the story is intended to elicit. His literary dexterity allows both the story and the language to flourish, and the synergistic effect truly is bewildering.
The Land at the End of the World
has been hailed as Lobo Antunes's masterpiece, and it certainly is deserving of such praise. His other works, however, resonate with as fevered a pitch, and if this story offers something the others do not, it may simply be that it was informed by the young novelist's own experiences of the tragedy and absurdity that is modern warfare. With António Lobo Antunes's training as a psychiatrist, his insight into war's effects on the mind and spirit offer another dimension that lend this work its great richness and relevance. The Land at the End of the World
is an exceptional work of art, one that further demonstrates the potent talents of a masterful storyteller.
No, seriously, happiness, that vague state resulting from an impossible convergence of parallel lines in the form of a good digestion and a smug egotism untouched by regrets, still seems to me- for I belong to the glum category of the sad and restless, eternally waiting for an explosion or a miracle- something as abstract and strange as innocence, justice, honor, those profound, grandiloquent, and ultimately empty concepts that the family, school, the catechism, and the state solemnly imposed upon me so as to tame me more easily, to nip in the bud, if I may put it like that, any stirrings of protest and rebellion. What others demand of us, you understand, is that we don't cause them to doubt, that we don't disturb their teeny-tiny lives, which they have carefully insulated against despair and hope, that we don't shatter their aquariums of deaf fish floating in the slimy water of the day-to-day, lit obliquely by the sleepy lamp of what we call virtue, which, when looked at closely, turns out to be merely the lukewarm absence of ambition. Recommended By Jeremy G., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
In the tradition of William Faulkner and Gabriel García Márquez, one of the twentieth century's most original literary voices offers "kaleidoscopic visions of a modern Portugal scarred by its Fascist past and its bloody colonial wars in Africa" (). Hailed as a masterpiece of world literature, --in an acclaimed translation by Margaret Jull Costa--recounts the anguished tale of a Portuguese medic haunted by memories of war. Like the Ancient Mariner who will tell his tale to anyone who listens, the narrator's evening unfolds like a fever dream that is both tragic and haunting. The result is one of the great war novels of the modern age.
"Splendid. . . . An unusually observant writer." Larry Rohter
"This Portuguese genius has seen too much, indeed, but in giving witness to the wasteland he has given us wonderful gifts." New York Times
"Brilliant . . . harrowing. . . . Packs the impact of an exploding mortar shell."--Kai Maristed,
About the Author
António Lobo Antunes, born in 1942, is the author of many books, including What Can I Do When Everything's On Fire?, Act of the Damned, The Land at the End of the World, The Splendor of Portugal, Knowledge of Hell, and more. Born in Lisbon in 1942, Antunes was trained as a psychiatrist and served in the Portuguese Army during the Angolan War. He lives in Portugal where he continues to write.Margaret Jull Costa won both the 2008 PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize and the 2008 Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize for Eca de Queiros's The Maias. She is also the translator of the work of Fernando Pessoa, José Saramago, António Lobo Antunes, and Javier Marías.