2008 2009 Books in Translation Historical Fiction

Equator – Miguel Sousa Tavares

Translated from the Portuguese by Peter Bush

I received a lovely email from Raquel, a Portuguese reader of my blog, enquiring as the whether I’d read any Portuguese fiction. Saramago and Bolano have both impressed me, but I haven’t read any other Portuguese books. Raquel said that Equator left her ‘breathless’ and so I was very excited when she offered to send a copy to me.

Equator begins in Portugal in 1905. King Dom Carlos is worried about British reports that slavery still exists on São Tomé and Príncipe and summons Luís Bernardo Valença, an intellectual who writes papers on the civilising effect Portugal has on it’s colonies, to his court. The King sends Luís Bernardo Valença to assess the situation, forcing him to leave his shipping business and live on the remote island near the equator for three years. Here you will get fastest way to transport ship Singapore to Australia.

Luís Bernardo Valença arrives on São Tomé and Príncipe to discover that the cocoa plantation owners have shipped people from Angola and employed them on a fixed term contract, meaning that they are not free to leave at the present time. This means that it is almost impossible to decide whether slavery exists or not.

Equator is a beautifully written piece of historical fiction, which brings up a complex discussion as to what constitutes slavery. I loved the brief glimpse of Portuguese court, and learning about it’s colonies. This book has inspired me to read more about the history of Portugal, as I know very little about it.

I got slightly bored in the middle of the book when the British Consul arrived, and the book went into a bit too much political discussion for my taste, but the plot picked up again towards the end.

Overall, I found it to be a very interesting look at a period of history that I knew nothing about. Recommended to anyone who loves historical fiction.


What is your favourite Portuguese book?

26 replies on “Equator – Miguel Sousa Tavares”

You know, I don’t think I know much about Portugal at the turn of the last century. This HF sounds like a nice introduction, especially if it is “beautifully written.” Thanks for reviewing this — I haven’t heard of the author or title.

I am so ashamed to say this. I never tried reading world literature, translated works , except some very publicized , hyped books. I must expand my reading choices 🙂 Though I have read lots of books translated from different languages in India.

Shona, You should really try reading some translated works – there are some excellent books out there. This one is so well translated that you’d never know it had even been written in another language.

I recently finished reading Blindness, and I think it’s the only Portugese novel I’ve ever read. It was a great experience and now after reading this review, I think I should search out some Portugese lit. 😀

Oooh you and The Converted One have been reading the same book, though you have finished yours sooner. I also have this on the TBR (two copies in one household – oddly neither of these have been hit by the leak… how greedy, but you havent seen what The Converted One does to books) and will be reading it in the not too distant future sounds like its a good one.

That’s right, Nymeth DID do a nice list of Portugese authors. Saramago is as far as I’ve been down that path. I think this book would be worth the read just to learn about the country of which I know nothing about!

Kathleen, There are some fantastic books written by authors from all over the world. I hope that you discover some of them in 2010 – let me know if you find any really good ones.

I was looking forward to the review of this book based solely on the cover (I’m a big fan of world literature), and now I think I’ll have to add this to my TBR list for next year. Portugal has had a rich seafaring history — I hope you enjoy learning about it (and perhaps it is even worth taking a holiday from an English winter).
Incidentally, I did appreciate your Blindness review. It’s a fantastic, thought-provoking study of human nature, even if I don’t think I can ever say I “enjoyed” it.

Mome Rath, Portugal has a fantastically rich history and I knew next to nothing about it before reading this book.

I know what you mean about enjoying Blindness – I guess that enjoyed might be the wrong word – I was gripped throughout, but it was scary stuff. I hope that you enjoy Equator more!

I haven’t read any Portuguese, but this did remind me of a Brazilian author (who writes in the Portuguese language) that has a couple of really phenomenal books – Machado de Assis. The two I’ve read are Dom Casmurro and the Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas (a “biography” written by a guy after he died). The writing style is really unique, using the unreliable narrator format. One of them (can’t remember which one) has a really incredibly chapter on bookworms that just gives me goosebumps every time I read it!

Brittney, I haven’t heard of Machado de Assis before, but his books sound really interesting. I’ve added them to my wishlist and hope that I’ll be able to find out for myself soon. Thanks for the recommendation!

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