Carlos de Oliveira

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Poet, novelist, journalist and translator, Carlos de Oliveira was born in 1921 to Portuguese parents living in Belém, Brazil. In 1923 the family moved back to Portugal to a small village near Cantanhede. In 1933 Carlos moved to Coimbra where he studied History and Philosophy and it was only in 1948 that he moved to Lisbon, a year before he married Angela who became not only his wife but also a regular collaborator.

In 1937, along with two other writers, Oliveira published a collection of short stories named Cabeças de Barro (Clay Heads) and in 1942 he published his first book of poetry, Turismo (Tourism). The following year his first novel was published, Casa na Duna (House on the Dune). His following novel, Alcateia, was censored by Salazar’s dicatorship. In fact, Carlos de Oliveira used his writing as a way to fight and denounce the system. His work revealed his concerns not only with a broken society but also with human fragility, solitude, weakness and frustration.

Uma Abelha na Chuva (A Bee in the Rain), published in 1953, is a canonical work in Portuguese literature. Oliveira was a central figure in Portugal’s Neo-Realist movement, founding and collaborating in magazines such as Seara Nova and Vortice. His vast work embodies the opposition between the outer world and his characters’ inner lives; there is a certain melancholy in all his writings. Being a perfectionist often led him to rewrite his own works and to publish different versions. Carlos de Oliveira died in 1981 in Lisbon aged 60.

Finisterra (Land’s End)

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Finisterra (Land’s End) is the last novel published by  and it’s considered by many as one of the most beautiful Portuguese literary works of the 20th century. The plot revolves around the progressive destruction of a family house in a clear reference to the same house of his first novel, The House on the Dune. In both novels we are told the story of a house that belongs to a rich rural family that faces ruin, which coincides with the end of the family itself. As the story rolls, we follow the characters in peculiar ways: the adult son who talks to himself as a child; the dialogue between characters revealing their values and the motivations behind their actions; and the migration taking rural people to the cities that is suddenly stopped by a natural event bringing to the surface old forests buried many centuries before.

In Finisterra we find all the Neo-Realist features we’ve seen in all Oliveira’s previous works: the psychological lives of each character; myth merging with reality; past, present and future melting together and the cosmic dimension of human life. It’s from the amalgam of each view that the story unfolds, and in it we also learn of the reflection on society and its values.

Following Oliveira’s style of rewriting his own works, some scholars consider Finisterra a mature rewrite of House on the Dune. With Finisterra, however, the author took the plot to a higher level by letting the fragments themselves, presented to the reader in a poetical way, concoct the story.

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One Comment

  1. Finnesterra by Carlos Oliveira

    One falls across the fragmentary nature of the text at once; I don’t know if this is the opening to the book, but the reading terrain is not to me welcoming – whether this is deliberate and necessary to the story as it develops, or not, requires more than these few pages.

    I found it difficult to know how to read the details in parentheses into the rest of the text, being themselves less than consistent in their focus. The use of language frequently caused my reading to stumble.

    I’ve never seen salt boiling on roads, and couldn’t capture “photographic moonlight” – which may be where my difficulty with the abstruse aspects of what we generally term poetry (doubtless due to my lack of perspicacity) leaves me without a happy way into the text.

    I anticipated that the arrival of the dialogue was an opportunity to bring the story into some focus for me, but the this too I found complex, unclear. Fortunately, others in future comments will help me to understand what’s going on here, I imagine.

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