29 October 07 | E.J. Van Lanen

Gonçalo Tavares has been awarded the Portugal Telecom prize for his novel Jerusalem. We found out about Tavares at Frankfurt and got our hands on a few of his ‘Neighborhood’ books—some of which have been translated into English by TransBooks in India (What kind of audience is there is in India for Portuguese translations…into English?). Each book in the series is a small collection of short stories inspired by literary and artistic figures. The ones we have in English are Mister Brecht, Mister Valéry, Mister Henri, and Mister Juarroz. It appears that the neighborhood—represented in an illustration on the back of the books by a sketch of a set of buildings with arrows telling you which building, and which window, each person lives in—is ever expanding, but so far includes, among others, Calvino, Kafka, Walser, and Woolf.

They’re incredible little books, and the stories remind me a lot of Augosto Monterroso’s. For the most part the stories are very short—some are only a few lines long—and fable-like, and some of the stories feature the writer/artist as main characters. Here’s the first story from Mister Brecht, entitled ‘A Pleasant Country’:

It was a very pleasant country in which to live, but the people were so lazy that when the President ordered them to defend the nation’s borders, they merely yawned. They were invaded.

The invaders also began to become lazy and, one day, when the new President ordered his men to defend the nation’s borders, they all yawned. They were invaded once again. This time by men from another country.

Yet again, in a short while the invaders became lazy and when, for the third time, a new President ordered them to defend the nation’s borders, they all yawned. They were invaded again. The country was now getting increasingly crowded.

This continued to happen until all the people of the world—even those who came from the other side of the planet—had invaded that country and had then been successively invaded as well. There were no people anywhere else in the world: they were all concentrated in that pleasant country.

It was at this stage that the new President ordered the invasion of the rest of the world since the world was completely empty—and was thus at his mercy. However, all his men yawned.

And then (without being aware of it) he advanced, alone.

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