The Land at the End of the World

Ant%C3%B3nio Lobo Antunes, trans. from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa. Norton, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-393-07776-6
Antunes's (What Can I Do When Everything's on Fire?) haunting work entangles the reader in a maelstrom of ghastly wartime impressions, recounted by a young medic during the Angolan struggle for independence during the early 1970s. The narrator is a writer looking back after a period of some years, remembering his bourgeois Lisbon family's pronouncements when he was posted to Angola—"At least doing his military service will make a man of him"—yet recognizing that the horrific, raw experience of caring for the sick and wounded in the squalid harbor town of Luanda, Angola, over two years only created a creature "made up of lascivious despair." The Portuguese imperialist presence in the country is everywhere felt, especially in the sexual exploitation of the Africans, and the narrator toils amid the "gigantic, unbelievable absurdity of the war" at a hospital, patching up the dismembered, blown-apart, and malaria-ridden, drinking heavily, and questioning his own insignificance. He is a person of exquisite education and sensibility, having come of age amid the regime of António de Oliveira Salazar in the 1960s; his fluid, hallucinatory narrative (addressed to a tender lover, "you") meanders through memory, cultural allusions, and visceral sensations to describe a surreal experience that proves devastating and transformative. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/14/2011
Release date: 05/01/2011
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