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.
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?