“I think: perhaps there’s a light inside people, perhaps a clarity; perhaps people aren’t made of darkness, perhaps certainties are a breeze inside people, and perhaps people are the certainties they possess.” (47)
I began this book on a recommendation from roommate with the warning that it is a “sweeping family drama, right up your alley,” so I knew I had read it right away. I devoured this book and its beautiful, heavy prose in one sitting, and now that I am finished, I want to open it up to the first page and start all over again. It is a book about one small Portuguese town and three generations. This is the kind of book that you could sit around and discuss for hours, finding symbolism and meaning in every sentence and image.
At the core of the story is one phrase: “I think: perhaps the sky is a huge sea of fresh water and we, instead of walking under it, walk on top of it; perhaps we see everything upside down and earth is a kind of sky, so that when we die, when we die, we fall and sink into the sky.” The world of this novel is a world that is turned upside down. The devil performs wedding ceremonies and death is more fulfilling and relieving than living. There is no faith – only despair. There is so much about this book that is biblical, but it is the bible without faith, without hope. Men live to be a hundred and fifty, and the women have no names (Old Testament). Judas owns a General Store. If I knew more about the bible and its stories, I’m sure I would have more comparisons.
The novel is told in multiple voices, but there is little to distinguish one voice from another. It is a little frustrating, and difficult at times, to tell who is speaking, but this only adds to the fatality and futility of the life the villagers lead. Another technique that adds to this is the distant nature of the narrative.
It is impossible to describe all of the characters who populate this short novel. The voice and the narration are absolutely beautiful. As my roommate said, “It’s the most quotable book ever.” So I think I’ll do some quoting:
This bedroom reminds me of my father’s bedroom when he was dying, and I even have the impression, perhaps by way of suggestion, that the giant’s hulking figure has passed by the window. Back and forth. Like on the day after my father died, his body still fresh and intact under the ground, the worms still not having discovered it but already gnawing at my heart and filling it with grief, the terrible grief of having a dead father, just that one father, just that one person suffering for me and hurting for me and caring about me, and that person no longer existing. (page 20)
My hands. My arms. The sun. I feel my arms open to the sun that floods me, that pierces me and is me. I feel my hands crucified in the light that flows and slides into me like a vertical river. I feel her gaze like this sun. My hands. Her gaze. The sun. And I know that my hands are still and silent and useless and dead. I know that her gaze doesn’t see me. I know the sun is defeating me. The bedroom. The bed. I think: the place of men is a line drawn between despair and silence. And once more her gaze. Etched with fire on the inside of all that’s impossible for me. As if the words I never told her were now shooting out from this sun and making my skin burn. Like a storm of voices. Like blades flying inside my body. In this light, the words I never told her. (175)
Go read this, now, please, and tell me that you loved it.