Portuguese author Antonio Lobo Antunes is the author of more than twenty books, including the novels The Return of the Caravels, Knowledge of Hell, The Natural Order of Things, The Inquisitors’ Manual, and What Can I Do When Everything’s On Fire? His book of newspaper “crónicas”—a free-form amalgam of essay and fiction—was published in the U.S. in 2009 under the title The Fat Man and Infinity. Last month, his groundbreaking 1979 novel, South of Nowhere, was reissued in a new translation by Margaret Jull Costa as The Land at the End of the World, and this September Dalkey Archive will release another early novel, The Splendor of Portugal. Both books are dense, kaleidoscopic visions of a modern Portugal scarred by its Fascist past and its bloody colonial wars in Africa. Lobo Antunes has been called “the heir to Conrad and Faulkner” (by George Steiner) and “one of the living writers who will matter most” (by Harold Bloom). I spoke to Lobo Antunes, now sixty-nine, over a scratchy phone connection to his home in Lisbon.
Your author bio mentions that you were trained as a psychiatrist and served as a military doctor in Portugal’s war in Angola before becoming a writer. This experience seems to be at the heart of The Land at the End of the World, which takes the form of the soul-baring rant of a Portuguese war veteran honing in on a sexual conquest in a late 1970s Lisbon nightclub. How do you see this novel now, which has since been acclaimed as a literary masterpiece on the absurdities and wretchedness of war?
I started that book more than thirty years ago, as a very young man. In the first versions, there was no war at all. In many ways, it’s impossible to speak about the war directly. For me, it was a personal matter. When I arrived in Africa I looked up at the sky and said, “I don’t know these stars. Where am I? What am I doing here?” I just wanted to return alive. I remember we kept calendars and would cross off each day that we were still alive! Read More