Posted in English

More About Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida

While I was reading As Telefones Someone asked me if I was enjoying the book because the author “is pretty militant” which surprised me because I don’t really get that from the books at all. There’s one racist incident I remember from Marremoto, but I don’t really get strong militant vibes. Obviously, by writing about people in the margins of society like Boa Morte da Silva, I guess there’s an implied criticism of the system as a whole there, but I don’t think it’s any more than an author should feel for the subjects of her books. And what’s literature for if not to show us a different perspective on life?

I tried watching an interview with her to see if I could understand what he meant. Here she is on RTP2, drinking coffee with José Navarro de Andrade and talking about Maremoto. My first impression as that she just comes across as just a writer wanting to talk about her book. OK, she admits the dreadful crime of not having read O Ano Da Morte de Ricardo Reis by José Saramago, but she doesn’t say anything I’d describe as “militant”. Interestingly, (if I’m understanding correctly) the interviewer tries, at around the eleven minute mark, to get her to admit that the inconsistencies in the biography of the main character are because she is trying to make him a pastiche, representative of all African immigrants in Lisbon, to which she says, no, the protagonist is just writing his own story in the form of a letter to his daughter and he isn’t always a reliable or coherent narrator. QA lot of his personality comes from a real person she knows and yes, it’s messy, but that’s how life is sometimes.

I’m not sure where the idea that she is militant comes from. She seems very empathetic – to the point of avoiding any attempt to educate the reader because she feels like it gets in the way of the protagonist’s own voice.

She quotes Peter Geach, husband of Elizabeth Anscombe, in the closing minutes. I can’t find the quote online but it’s something like “It’s possible for a man to lose his one chance while he is still young, and live to be old, feeling happy and at ease in the world but in the eyes of God, be dead”. That’s heavy stuff, man, but it’s Christian ethics, not Marxism, feminism, CRT or whatever. So I’m at a loss to know where this “militant” thing has come from, unless she was more of a firebrand in her youth.

Posted in English

An Incident

I was interested in this passage from Maremoto, the book I finished the other day. In the passage, the protagonist, Boa Morte, is standing around near a bus stop when a guy he’s never met comes up and starts accusing him of stealing and generally giving him a hard time. Xingar is a good word here: to verbally abuse someone. O homem está a xingá-lo

Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida

“Chamou-me preto de Guinea, farrusco vai para a tua terra, escarumba eu sei lá que mais, aqui na rua há quem diga que pareço realeza, não sei se é verdade, o povo Cuanhama é conhecido pela sua majestade”

Maremoto – Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida

It’s obviously got a strong racial angle: preto being a word for black that is not exactly polite (“negro” is the more acceptable word). I’ve heard it described in a news program as the Portuguese equivalent of the N word, but it certainly doesn’t seem to be that, judging from the contexts I’ve seen it in. It definitely has a charge to it though. Likewise, Farrusco is related to skin colour, but its literal meaning is more like “sooty”. “Vai para a tua terra” means go back to your own country and Escarumba is just a general, derogatory term for a black person.

I was initially confused as to why he then goes on, in the second part of the sentence, to talk about royalty, but I was probably being stupid: he’s just turning the situation around. The guy haranguing him can only see his colour and is making all kinds of assumptions about him, but he says among people who know him better, he is considered to have a regal bearing. It seems quite a good way of dismissing the idiot as an irrelevant know-nothing.

When I asked about this online, quite a few people said it wasn’t necessarily a racist incident. Say what now? It’s true that the book doesn’t say for sure that the aggressor in the situation is white, but everything about the terms he’s using – three words in quick succession that make specific reference to Boa Morte’s skin colour – just make me think that the speaker doesn’t share that skin colour. I pointed this out, but the Portuguese peeps replied that there were rivalries and snobberies between black Portuguese people and Africans and then within the African community between different nationalities and tribal groupings and that it’s not unheard of for different groups to say ostensibly racist things to each other as a result. Nobody from within Portugal contradicted this point of view; nobody said it sounded like a racist incident. Every Portuguese person who expressed an opinion said it seemed ambiguous to them.

Mmweellll, I’m from outside the culture so I’m reluctant to flat out contradict them but I must say that gets a big 🤔 from me. If anyone else reading this knows the book, I’d love to hear how you read it and whether or not you agree.

Anyway, it all sounds a bit grim, doesn’t it, but Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida is a good enough writer that she can handle a pretty heavy subject with a lightness of touch. It’s quite a funny scene, believe it or not!

Posted in Portuguese

Maremoto – Djamilia Pereira de Almeida

Maremoto de Djaimilia Pereira de Almeida

Este livro conta a história de Boa Morte da Silva, nativo de Bissau, residente em Lisboa e as suas amizades, principalmente com uma mulher sem abrigo que se chama Fatinha. Há capítulos narrados na terceira pessoa mas a maioria na primeira, como se o protagonista estivesse a falar à sua filha que ainda mora em Bissau e que mal conhece (nem sequer sabe se ou não ela está viva)

É muito bem escrito, até eu sou capaz de apreciar a confiança com a qual ela esboça as personagens e as cenas nas quais eles se encontram. Como muitos livros portugueses, custou-me julgar o “tom” da história. Na maior parte, havia um sentido de ternura em relação às personagens, sobretudo na amizade entre Boa Morte e a Fatinha mas também há momentos de humor.