Portuguese lit: The Memorables by Lídia Jorge

September 10, 2017 Leave a comment Go to comments

The Memorables by Lídia Jorge (2014) French title: Les Mémorables. Translated by Geneviève Leibrich.

Elle serrait contre elle la copie des plans dessinés par la main de celui qui, trente ans plus tôt, avait mis en marche cinq mille hommes contre un régime décrépit, un de ces régimes si long et si séniles qu’ils laissent du fumier sur la terre pour plusieurs siècles. She held to her chest a copy of the maps designed by the man who, thirty years before, had led five thousand men against a decrepit regime. It was one of those long and senile regimes that left manure on earth for several centuries.

“She” is Ana Maria Machado, a young Portuguese journalist who works for CBS in Washington DC. The five thousand men mentioned in this quote are the military men who participated in the coup d’état on April 25th, 1974 in Lisbon, the one that led to the Carnation Revolution and the fall of the Portuguese dictatorship.

After reportages in war zones, Ana Maria’s boss asks her to go back to Lisbon and film a documentary about the Carnation Revolution and the miracle of this peaceful revolution where the military takes power to bring democracy to their country.

Ana Maria is reluctant to go back to Lisbon where she has unresolved issues with her father, Ántonio Machado, a famous political editorialist whose column always proved to be insightful. He was also close to the people who did the revolution. Ana Maria needs a crew for her mission and rekindles a working relationship with Margarida and Miguel Ângelo, two reporters she knew in journalism school.

Ana Maria decides against telling her father about her project, mostly because she doesn’t want him to interfere with her vision of the events. In Ántonio’s office, she borrows a picture taken on 21st of August 1975, in a restaurant, the Memories. This picture portrays all the people who were decisive participants in the revolution and close witnesses of the events. This photo will be the Ariadne thread of the documentary.

Ana Maria and her friends want to reconstruct the minutes this 25 of April 1974 and understand what everyone did and when. They will go and interview these key actors or their widow to discover what they did that day, how they felt, how they lived afterwards and how they reflect on the revolution, thirty years later.

Lídia Jorge autopsies the military coup that brought democracy to her country but more importantly, she questions what happened to the major players of the Carnation Revolution. Her book was published in 2014, for the fortieth anniversary of the 25 of April 1974 events. Ana Maria writes her story six years after she did her documentary and what she narrates happened in 2004, for the thirtieth anniversary of the revolution. Symbolic years. Time and remembrance are important in her book.

I wanted to read about the Carnation Revolution and it gave me a better vision of what happened and how extraordinary it was to have such a smooth transition to democracy. Lídia Jorge points out two disconcerting facts about these events: one, the major actors of the military coup were never properly thanked and none had a glorious career after that. And two, they were forgotten from the public. This is very different from what Petros Markaris describes about Greece in Bread, Education, Freedom or what Yasmina Khadra writes about Algeria in Dead Man’s ShareBoth Markaris and Khadra explain how the actors of the country’s liberation cashed on their being on the right side, either during the decisive demonstration against the Greek regime or against the French. In these two countries, these men became untouchable heroes, grabbed on power and didn’t let it go.

According to The Memorables, no heroes were born from the Carnation Revolution in Portugal. Ana Maria knew the men on the photo because her parents gravitated in their circle. Margarida and Miguel Ângelo had to research them. Lídia Jorge wants to celebrate them, to remind them to the Portuguese and show how ungrateful the Republic was towards them. None of them benefited from their act.

In addition to the questioning about the place they have in the Portuguese collective memory, Lídia Jorge muses over the impact of living through such historical events. How do you go back to normal after that? How does one leave their glorious days behind and go on with a mundane everyday life? How do you survive to the I-was-there-and-part-of-it syndrome? There is a before and an after the 25th April 1974 for all the Portuguese who were old enough at the time to grasp the importance of this day, but for the people who prepared the coup and succeeded, how does the rest of your life measure up to this? (I’ve always wondered how Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr survived to being a Beatle)

Ana Maria’s personal story is also linked to the 25th of April. That day, her mother, Machado’s lover, was supposed to fly back to her country, Belgium. The beginning and the excitement of the Carnation Revolution convinced to stay in Portugal. So, Ana Maria’s existence is also an outcome of the revolution. As mentioned before, her parents were close to the new power and knew the key players. Coming back to Lisbon is a personal journey for her. She’s estranged from her father and never saw her mother again after she divorced her father when she was twelve. She doesn’t want him to ask questions about her current assignment and therefore avoids asking questions herself. They live together but barely talk to each other. This added a dimension to the novel.

What can I say about my response to The Memorables? Honestly, sometimes I found it very tedious to read. When I read Dubliners, I wondered Do you need to be Irish to love Dubliners by James Joyce? because there were so many precise political details in the short stories that I felt I was missing vital clues in the stories. I felt the same here and I wondered if I needed to be Portuguese to fully understand the meaning of The Memorables. All the historical characters mentioned in the novel through a nickname are pathetic in the interviews with Ana Maria and her friends. It’s puzzling. They all have issues and are eccentric. How real are they? It made the book difficult to read and I don’t know how much is true and how much comes from the novelist’s licence. On top of that, Ana Maria is not exactly a warm character and it’s hard to root for her. And that’s probably the major problem I had with The Memorables. I was never fully engaged in the reporters’ quest. It could have been suspenseful and it wasn’t, except for the last 100 pages when Ana Maria uncovers her father’s secrets.

All in all, I’m glad I read it but it was not an agreeable read. I’d love to hear about your response to it. Alas, this is not available in English so none of my English-speaking followers will have read it. So, I’d be glad to hear from French and Portuguese readers who might have read it.

Street Art in Lisbon. Salgueiro Maia, member of the MFA, the “Armed Forces Movement”

  1. September 11, 2017 at 2:56 am

    You left me really curious about this book. I’ll let you know what I think when I read it!

    Like

    • September 11, 2017 at 9:01 pm

      I hoped you’d read my billet and could give me pointers. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts about it.
      This is my first book by Lídia Jorge. She has ten books translated into French but I’d never heard of her. Have you read anything by her?

      Liked by 1 person

      • September 11, 2017 at 10:28 pm

        She is quite well-known in Portugal, but I’ve never read a book by her, mainly because I couldn’t decide on which to choose. I may read this one first now!

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        • September 12, 2017 at 9:42 pm

          What’s her reputation? Is she considered as a difficult read or not?

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          • September 12, 2017 at 10:26 pm

            She has won a few prizes, but I don’t think she is considered as particularly difficult to read.

            Liked by 1 person

  2. September 11, 2017 at 6:15 am

    I’m intrigued by this too, but if it’s not available in English I guess that’s that.
    It makes me think, though, we’ve had peaceful revolutions nearby in Indonesia and the Philippines, and I’ve never yet seen a novel about either, either in English or in translation. And yet as you say, it’s a wonderful thing, uncelebrated…

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    • September 11, 2017 at 9:06 pm

      She’s got ten books translated into French but I don’t think they are available in English. What a shame!
      I don’t know much about Indonesia or the Philippines but I trust you on that.

      In Lídia Jorge’s novel, Ana Maria is back to Lisbon to do this documentary about the Carnation Revolution but the CBS program is also about the Romanian revolution of 1989 (violent), the Czech change of regime and the ex GDR. It was not so long ago that a lot of European countries lived in dictatorships.

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  3. September 11, 2017 at 6:19 am

    I saw the tag ‘translation tragedy’ and knew what you were going to tell me…

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    • September 11, 2017 at 9:08 pm

      Yes it’s a Translation Tragedy in the sense it’s good literature and she deserves to be translated.
      I was not passionate about this book, despite its qualities. I’m not sure you’d like it. For you, Comme un blues is a Translation Tragedy, this one? not so much.

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  4. September 11, 2017 at 10:01 am

    Ah, shame, but I think this can be a common failure when investigating things that are too closely linked to a country’s past and require a detailed knowledge of that history. It’s all about finding that right balance with universal themes but educating readers about the specifics of a certain country.

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    • September 11, 2017 at 9:10 pm

      They really investigate about a specific day. The people Ana Maria interviews are almost all historical figures. I wonder if Lídia Jorge interviewed them and turned the material into literature or if she just read a lot of documentation. I couldn’t find any interview by her. For once, I wanted to read an author’s interview and I can’t find any. Le comble! (how do you say C’est le comble in English, btw. I never could figure that one out)

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      • September 11, 2017 at 9:37 pm

        Easy to translate in Romanian: E culmea! Not sure about English. Maybe ‘it’s the pits’ – which sounds like the opposite, but makes kind of sense.

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        • September 11, 2017 at 9:46 pm

          OK, so there’s no obvious English translation. Thanks.

          Liked by 1 person

  5. September 11, 2017 at 9:33 pm

    Superb commentary as always Emma.

    This book sounds so good. I also need to learn more about Carnation Revolution. It seems so strange that those who led it seem to have not gotten much credit.

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    • September 11, 2017 at 9:46 pm

      Thanks Brian.
      I wanted to know more about the Carnation Revolution as well. I was surprised by what Jorge describes about these historical characters. I looked some of them up on Wikipedia (I wanted to see their photo) and indeed, they did not have glorious careers. She also hints that they didn’t want personal recognition for it and wanted to be one among the 5000 who joined the movement that led to the end of the dictatorship. Fascinating.

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  6. September 12, 2017 at 8:40 pm

    Can it be good literature if you found it tedious? I found myself thinking that important as it might be locally this probably wasn’t a translation tragedy.

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    • September 12, 2017 at 9:42 pm

      The fact that I found it tedious doesn’t mean it’s not good literature. I found Javier Marias rather tedious and everybody raves about him.

      I still think it’s a translation tragedy because it’s good literature and she deserves to be translated.

      Like

  7. September 12, 2017 at 9:43 pm

    Equally informative and frustrating reading about books not available in English. Only two of her novels have been translated and neither are in print. It’s interesting what you say about whether you would appreciate it more if you were Portuguese – I do wonder if that’s true of some novels.

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    • September 12, 2017 at 9:50 pm

      I know it can be frustrating when I write about untranslated books. (Two more upcoming reviews like this, I’m sorry) Sometimes they get translated later but I doubt this one will be translated anytime soon.

      I’d just been to Portugal when I read it and it helped when the reporters were walking around Lisbon or visiting the Alentjo. Since I don’t know how the Portuguese feel about this revolution, it’s hard to fully understand all the undercurrents of the book. Like I said, I felt the same when I read Dubliners. It’s like I was missing private jokes and innuendos. But all in all, it was still very informative and maybe I just expect too much.

      If you and I did a readalong with a biography of Napoleon, we probably wouldn’t read it with the same eyes.

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  1. September 29, 2017 at 7:20 pm

I love to hear your thoughts, thanks for commenting. Comments in French are welcome

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