Gonçalo M. Tavares is widely hailed as one of the leading lights of modern Portuguese literature. He was born in Luanda, Angola in 1970 where his parents were teaching at the time, but grew up in Portugal. His work has met with considerable critical acclaim since he began to publish in 2001 and has received numerous prizes and accolades from an international readership. As a result, his writing is currently being translated in over forty countries. A fearless and unrestricted approach to writing has enabled him to develop an extensive and extremely varied body of work, comprising novels, theatre, short stories, essays and poetry. José Saramago was a vocal champion of Tavares.
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Uma Viagem à Índia (A Journey to India)
Uma Viagem à Índia (A Journey to India) breaths life back into a somewhat neglected poetic form. It is an immensely readable and contemporary epic poem. The poem is inspired by The Lusiads (Os Lusíadas), the verse epic by Camões which is as central to Lusophone literature as Milton’s Paradise Lost is to English literature. However, readers can read and enjoy this poem without any knowledge of The Lusiads. Camões features briefly in an epigraph to open the poem. The rest of A Journey to India is arranged in short stanzas, or cantos, and recounts the tale of the hero, Bloom, on his journey.
It becomes clear early on that the trajectory of this poem is anything but direct, and as Bloom sets off from Lisbon and detours through London, Paris, Vienna, and Prague, as the narrative digressions multiply and overlap before he even approaches India. We are guided in and out of the protagonist’s thoughts, interspersed with philosophical commentary from the narrator, and around an array of obstacles which Bloom must contend with along the way. In the hands of a lesser writer this tangential approach could become overly convoluted, but the cadence and steady flow of Tavares’ prose anchor the story with disarming simplicity.
Bloom’s motives for embarking on his journey emerge as the poem unfolds. We are given pieces of the puzzle one by one, at each stage learning something new about our hero’s character, but Tavares withholds just enough to keep us asking questions. A Journey to India is a thought-provoking and highly original contribution to the Western epic poetry tradition – a work which challenges our ideas about genre.