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Portugal: Year In Review 2004

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Portugal: Year In Review 2004

Portugal Portuguese literature suffered a grievous loss in 2004 with the death in Lisbon on July 2 of Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, one of the greatest poets in the language. She was a prolific author and left a large body of work in print. By combining sharp observation with imagery inspired by the philosophy and culture of ancient Greece, she created a world of her own that lived on through the magic of words.

It was often said that Portugal is a country of poets. That could well be true, considering the growing success of Gastão Cruz. Cruz was awarded the 2004 Great Prize for Poetry by the Association of Portuguese Writers for his 2002 collection Rua de Portugal, and in 2004 he added another work, Repercussão. The qualities of verbal discipline that distinguished de Mello Breyner’s work were found in Cruz’s as well. His poems recalled the dead and the living in memories of place and time.

Among good works of fiction, the biggest success was the novel Equador by Miguel Sousa Tavares, a journalist and media star. This was his first novel, and it was an eminently readable piece of work. It dealt with the problems of a governor sent to an equatorial island country (part of the Portuguese empire) to persuade the planters to abolish slavery. Their unwillingness to comply generates a conflict between the governor and the settlers and leads to a personal drama and a tragic ending. José Saramago, the 1998 Nobel Prize winner, produced another fascinating novel and fine political allegory, Ensaio sobre a lucidez, which showed the attitudes of the electorate in a democratic society. The voters, fed up with politicians and their promises, have given them a blank vote en masse. Shaken to its foundations, the government tries to save the system by resorting to violence and thus snuffs out the spirit of free society. The story was impressively terrifying and contained dire warnings for the present.

The 2004 Great Prize for Fiction by the Association of Portuguese Writers was won by Mafalda Ivo Cruz for her novel Vermelho. It was a lively narrative, full of youthful zest for life. The Camões Prize, the highest to be awarded in the Portuguese language for an author with a full body of published work, went to Agustina Bessa Luís, a prolific novelist and a subtle chronicler of family life.

Luís de Sousa Rebelo