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Why Read Antonio Lobo Antunes?

That’s the title of the extremely long article I wrote about Antonio Lobo Antunes for the new issue of Quarterly Conversation. (More on that issue later.)

If you’ve read this blog at all, you’ve probably come across one or more posts in which I wax poetic about the awesomeness of Antunes’s writing. (Here are a few samples: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 . . . ) In fact, the current Read This Next title is Antunes’s Splendor of Portugal, and if you visit that link, you can read an extended preview of the book, and an interview with translator Rhett McNeil.

Anyway, back to the Quarterly Conversation article . . . This primarily focuses on three novels by Antunes — The Land at the End of the World, Fado Alexandrino, and The Splendor of Portugal — and a range of reasons why you should read him. Here’s part of the opening:

I first discovered Antunes over a decade ago, when I was asked to review The Natural Order of Things, the fourth of six novels of his published by Grove Press. Reading it was like discovering that once-in-a-lifetime band whose music just sounds right straight away. As if the patterns were constructed precisely for you to hear them. It was at once familiar and new and exciting. A whole new way of constructing art—one that was smart and jarring, both on the surface and at the level of deeper emotions.

Immediately hooked, I went back and read Act of the Damned and An Explanation of the Birds and begged to be able to review each new title of his as it was released—to date, eleven have made their way into English, a remarkable number for a “difficult” Portuguese author whose books probably don’t sell all that well. (To put this in perspective, Nobel Prize winner and fellow countryman Jose Saramago has thirteen novels available in English translation.)

Publishing is a profession of people and individual taste, and Antunes has been in great hands in the U.S., having been backed by Morgan Entrekin (Grove), Bob Weil (W.W. Norton), and John O’Brien (Dalkey Archive). He’s also received a wealth of critical praise, from a New Yorker profile—“One of the most skillful psychological portraitist writing anywhere”—to numerous New York Times reviews. He’s been compared to Faulkner, Dos Passos, García Márquez, Céline, Cormac McCarthy, Malcolm Lowry, Proust, Woolf, Canetti, Gogol, Camus, Cortazar, and Nabokov. The real challenge for reviewers is coming up with a new Master of World Literature Antunes hasn’t been compared to.

But what does all this praise mean? That’s one hell of a mad amalgam of influences, and it gives a basis for the sense of familiarity and newness that I experienced when I first encountered his work. It also makes you appreciate that, with such a thorough connection to the literary history of the twentieth century, Antunes is greatly underappreciated. Which, to be completely honest, sort of makes sense. His books truly do embody everything Americans are supposedly afraid of: most of his novels focus around a war and a coup unfamiliar to many readers; the books aren’t very uplifting; they can be difficult to piece together. In thinking about this article, I’ve set myself the task of trying to convince an imaginary reader why he/she should invest his/her mental energy and time into this particular quasi-obscure, complicated novelist . . .

Click here to read the entire piece.



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