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Alentejo Blue Hardcover – Deckle Edge

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; 1st edition (June 20, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743293037
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743293037
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.6 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,990,271 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

With the 2003 publication of her acclaimed debut novel, Brick Lane in 2003, which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, Monica Ali established herself as a keen observer of the human condition, in all its ordinariness and its follies. The setting was England, pre-and post-9/11, in an apartment house occupied mostly by Bangladeshi immigrants. In Alentejo Blue, the setting is a village community in Portugal, called Mamarossa. Once again, Ali has turned her unerring eye on the inner landscape of her characters. In a series of episodic vignettes, she limns the daily lives, hopes, wishes, and dreams of villagers and visitors alike. Her special gift is capturing the small detail that shows the person: the filthy rag that Vasco mindlessly uses to wipe the tables in his cafe as he muses about his dead American wife and what he will eat next; the smelly never-washed clothes that drunken China Potts appears in again and again. She doesn't shrink from the disgusting or the gross, but her revelations are never gratuitous. This is information the reader needs.

Stanton is the blocked writer who sits in Vasco's cafe, taking in the local scene. He becomes deeply involved with the truly messy Potts family: drunken father, spacey mother, promiscuous daughter and lonely young son. Interestingly, they make a stab at pulling themselves together; Stanton's answer is to find someplace else to sit, perhaps in a more northern clime.

Two of the best stories are those of young Teresa, a village native, who has a chance to leave for London and an au pair position. Will she be able to leave? Ali writes beautifully of all the things weighing on her decision. The other story is that of an engaged couple from England, taking a break from wedding planning, her mother, church, and all the folderol. He is adamantly against the whole charade; she doesn't want to talk about it. That isn't what their distance is about anyway, as we find out

The villagers are waiting for the arrival of Marco Alfonso Rodrigues, a man who left years ago and is reputed to possess great wealth. Everyone has a different idea of what will happen when he arrives and how his presence will impact the life of the village. When he finally arrives late in the story, nothing is quite as anticipated.

One of Ali's characters says, "We think we live like kings, but we are puppets on the throne. We send out proclamations and fancy we are making History and forget that it has made us." With great compassion and insight, Ali writes of her "kings," and we learn how their history has, indeed, formed them. She leaves us to wonder if they can change, or if they really want to. --Valerie Ryan

5 Second Blog Post

We had the opportunity to meet the lovely and talented Monica Ali when she stopped by our Seattle offices while on tour for her new book. We were so thrilled by meeting her that the three of us wrote about it in our Books Blog. Here is an excerpt:

Fans may recall Ali's debut novel, Brick Lane, which was centered around Islamic immigrants in pre- and post-9/11 England. Brick Lane was nominated for The National Book Critics Circle Award in 2003 and was also shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize. Monica Ali's latest book is set in a well known region of Portugal where she and her family sojourn for a few months of the year. When asked about the inspiration for Alentejo Blue, she confided that some of her neighbors might see a bit of themselves in the characters and narrative. But, she's hopeful that they'll recognize how she's transformed them within the context of the story. Read the entire post

From Publishers Weekly

Ali's 2003 debut, Brick Lane, was a brilliant family saga told largely from within a Bangladeshi woman's apartment on London's ramshackle East End. Ali, who was born in Dhaka and grew up in London, sets her sophomore effort in a similarly struggling community, the rural Alentejo region of Portugal, where cork prices are falling, the region is still healing after the brutal Salazar regime and the locals don't quite care to cater to tourists. But where Brick Lane was quietly symphonic, this blues-like novel is more of a dirge: João, in old age, comes upon his old friend (and sometime lover), Rui, hanging from a tree, his Communist dreams dashed; the English Potts family scrapes by as indolents-in-exile; the writer Stanton, also British, works away on a second-rate literary biography; tavern-keeper Vasco sadly and silently reminisces about his marriage to an American, Lili; and young Teresa is preparing to leave the village for an uncertain future "outside." The simultaneous sense of stasis and great change is Ali's forte, and her characters' perceptions are sharp. But when anyone other than the Brits speak, it's as if Ali is trying to ventriloquize an incompletely acquired dialect. The characters' lives generate little tension, much like the pinball machine in Vasco's cafe that Stanton plays badly. (June 20)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Monica Ali was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and grew up in England. She has been named by Granta as one of the twenty best young British novelists. She is the author of the novel Brick Lane, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and is now a major motion picture, and Alentejo Blue, a story collection. She lives in London with her husband and two children.

Customer Reviews

The story line has no flow to it and it is way to choppy to follow.
You are left thinking "well, what about...?", but then a few seconds later you realize that you don't really care after all.
Alex Tilley
I read the first 120 pgs (already struggling to do so) but had to fight to finish the book for the remainder.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Liz Chalmers on July 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book because my mother lives in the Alentejo. I intended to read it and then send it to her. But I'm struggling to even finish it. I'm a college graduate, and I've read plenty of complex novels, but this one leaves me feeling like I'm missing some skill necessary to decode it. I think I need an English Literature class in order to understand it, and frankly, I don't want to put that much work into reading for pleasure. There are too many characters, with too little to tie them together, and sentences thrown in at the end of paragraphs that leave me thinking "huh?"

Others clearly love this book, so I realize this is just a mismatch between reader and style of book. But I thought I should write a review so that others who want plenty of accessible plot in a book know to look elsewhere.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By eduarda on January 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book because I was born and raised in the Alentejo and I was so anxious to read about familiar places and perhaps to better understand my own culture.

I hate to say this but I read perhaps 20 pages, if that. Nothing made sense to me, and there was no flow. I actually returned the book to the store.

So sorry to say this but I would definitely not recommend it to anyone.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By RBSProds TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Five Mesmerizing Stars!! Monica Ali's wonderfully conceived sophomore effort transcends the Bangladeshi roots of her debut novel "Brick Lane" by a considerable distance, physically and topically. She transports us to the village of Mamarrosa Portugal in the southeastern rural area of Alentejo and a tangle of lives and events played against the country's historical, social, and economic factors. In so doing, she elevates herself from a writer who can very convincingly write about her own background to someone who can conjure up a totally different stage, across a wide swath of time, and reveal the innermost workings of other cultures and characters. And in the "acknowledgements" she tells us she's spent time in rural Portugal and studied the language, and it clearly shows in her wonderful writing! Not 'chick lit', it's 'Wonderful Lit'! 'Saudade' (a Portuguese word which appromixates 'sadness/hopeful longing') hangs in the air, hence the "Blue" for atmosphere (and a local paint color), but it's not a turn off. It's exactly like taking a short vacation in a rural town in a foreign land, full of quaint, interesting, interlaced characters that you take as they come, soak up some history and the local sights, and then you go home, better off for the experience! There are no murders, spies, or insidious terrorist plots.

Roughly-hewn, beautifully complex characters abound. And her prose can be spellbinding, whether she's writing about dictatorships, the vagaries of love, or an almond tart. A few crude situations are present. I like the way she drops us into a scene and slowly makes us aware of where we are and what's going on.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Ryan Davis on June 28, 2006
Format: Hardcover
"Alentejo Blue" can best be described in the same way a sports commentator described the Portuguese National Foorball Side, "always full of promise, but never lives up to its promises."

There are a number of laudable elements in Monica Ali's prose.It is very spare, and her novel shows a great deal of work and refinement. The novel, however, seems to suffer on it's attempt to maintain coherency. There is no "plot" as such, as the book is a series of vignettes that are connected primarily through sharing the space and time of a certain moment in a certain Alentejo village- but very often these vignettes fail to connect to one another. It seems as if there is a great novel hidden within "Alentejo Blue", but it never quite comes out. The reader is given a series of character sketches that clearly could develop into something interesting, but never quite get there.

Her English characters are generally believable, and relatively well fleshed out, but the Portuguese characters are far less believable. It is clear that Ali has a deeper than passing familiarty with Portugal, in her use of quotes from the Portuguese language and reference to place names, but Her Portuguese characters feel entirely English. Their "Portugueseness" is entirely lamina, and thus the division between the foreigners and the locals is unconvincing. All the characters remain foreign to the reader. In addition, there are a few glaring errors of language usage, such as when the character of Vasco uses English phrasing, rather than American, despite the fact that he lived in the United States and was married to an American wife.

In fact, though this is a novel that ought to be attached to a specific time and place, it really never convincingly references its locus.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By James W. Fonseca on October 2, 2011
Format: Paperback
This book is more a series of short stories with recurring and interconnected characters than it is a novel. Here in a tiny town in Portugal, the poorest province in the poorest nation in (western) Europe, are assembled a cast of characters who are locals, tourists and émigrés, mainly from Britain. The author, a native of Bangladesh, living in London, shows us personally as well as by her characters just how globalization is impacting even remote corners of the world.

One would think the locals couldn't wait to leave this god-forsaken corner of the earth, and some are trying to leave. But one local has returned from a decade as a cook and bartender in the Portuguese emigrant community in Provincetown, Massachusetts and he has no intention of ever leaving his Portuguese village again. One of the émigrés is an alcoholic author. One émigré family that features a pot-head father, lost son, promiscuous mother and promiscuous underage daughter, is so dysfunctional they could star in their own reality TV show. The underlying theme seems to be you can run but you can't hide (from yourself); even more so in a small rural village.

The Blue in the title, (from the blue in the Portuguese azulejos tiles) is a give-away - these are depressing stories filled with angst and anomie. One could argue that depressing small-town stories constitute their own genre. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson; Village by Robert McAlmon; Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, and Tales from the Mountain by Miguel Torga - also set in Portugal - all come to mind. Ali gives us depressing stories, but, in short, brilliant stories. The final chapter featuring a feel-good village festa can't erase all that comes before and seems a bit disingenuous.
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