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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Approachable Antunes, July 20, 2009
By 
Thomas H. Lynch (Oceanside, CA United States) - See all my reviews
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I recently saw this title in the new book section of the the library, was intrigued and took it home. I became an instant convert! Billy Collins, former US poet laureate, has said : "His descriptive quickness and his genius for metaphor causes the line between prose and portray to vanish before our astonished eyes." Harold Bloom, literary critic, said: "One of the living writers who will matter the most."

Antunes is easily in the company of James Joyce, William Faulkner and Sigmund Freud, all three of whom he has acknowledged as influences, while remaining a great original himself. If you enjoy good poetry and its inherent ambiguity, his writings are bound to astonish you. The present book is a collection of 107 short pieces, 600 to 1000 words, partly a memoir, that is an excellent, very approachable introduction to his many novels. I have now read three of his novels and am finishing a fourth, where his imagination really soars. I write some poetry and found his works really inspiring in my pursuit of my own imagination, stirred up by his. Each of his works is a treasure chest about the human condition. He is a meticulous craftsman -- he reports that three pages a week is about his usual pace for his novels.

Many of the 107 pieces have been published previously as newspaper pieces, so reading all 107 pieces at one go might be overwhelming compared to enjoying one a week. The stories have a ordinary coherence that his novels sometimes do not. In his novels he allows himself to tell a story from points of view of many of the minds of his characters, weaving these voices in his original manner. At times it seems the reader is left with little clue as to who is saying what, but after while, with persistence, one can catch on to his method. In my opinion Antunes is much more successful than Joyce was in his Ulysses in communicating to the reader his characters and their rejoicing and suffering in the human condition. I am glad I read The Fat Man & Infinity first. To read his novels the reader has to draw on his own imagination as a raft to ride the seas of ambiguity Antunes provides. Without such a raft, interest will drown. Each reader no doubt has a different trip, different vistas, different thrills. This is also true for Joyce's Ulysses, Ledo Ivo's Intruder and Garcia Marquez's novels, but for me, Antunes' seas are the most worthwhile.

Antunes, in his novel What Can I Do When Everything Is on Fire?, makes what seems to be a self reference about his writing: "..., I wrote it with this memory of the feeling I had as a way of seeing that I wouldn't lose it." (p. 233). This is the outlook of the poet. He piles descriptions upon description, interwoven by remarks of one or more minds to create the rich sea of words that one must navigate to absorb the feelings he is communicating. And his novels deal with much tragedy and sorrow and cruelty in the human condition as well as longings, desires and love. He trained and practiced as a psychiatrist, principally in the Angola War and in state hospitals, for many years before he launched his career as a writer. However, he knew he had to be a writer from age 12 on. His psychiatric training and experience no doubt was valuable in allowing him to delve deeply into human feeling without becoming a mental or emotional case himself. In addition, as he relates in the book reviewed, in the guise of one of the stories, he learned a valuable lesson from one of his patients in keeping the appearance of sanity, that is, to fill your briefcase full of oranges and go to the zoo to talk to the tigers.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Crime of Remainder..., August 12, 2011
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I bought this book, as a hardback, with a "Deckle edge" on the pages, from Amazon, for three bucks and some change. Should I be proud or ashamed? The price had to be below the actual cost of the printing and binding, leaving the publisher and author in deep negative territory. The first book by Antunes that I read was "The Return of the Caravels". I had high hopes - it was a great theme - the Portuguese caravels coming home after 500 years of empire, but I did not think he delivered as well as he could have. I was advised by a fellow Amazon reviewer not to give up on him; that this book was far better, and indeed it is. The picture on the cover is so evocative of its contents; yes, at least on this one, feel free to judge the book by its cover.

The book is composed of 107 short stories, usually around three pages in length. It is divided into three parts, with the first two devoted to mainly childhood memories, and are told in the first person. If you are at all sentient, several of these stories should stir some long dormant neurons that contain incidents in your own childhood. Even though the place names in Portugal may be unfamiliar, there is the universality of the experiences that resonate. The third part is equally astonishing, maybe even more so. Instead of his own reminisces, he has a phenomenal ability to project himself into the lives of the people around him, male and female, and capture one of the dilemmas, if not the central one, of their life. As other reviewers have indicated, and I heartedly agree, this book is not for the "speed-read" crowd. The stories are meant to be savored, and reflected upon, and I rarely read more than six at a time. In numerous stories, I'd read just the first three sentences, and then "tabulated" the amount of information conveyed, in terms of setting, gender and age of the characters, social and economic status. In several of the stories, there were the considerations involving the expenditures for gas and electricity, which defined one class; in others, it was the considerations involving servants, which defined another class. His metaphors and descriptive passages are wonderfully fresh: "a good ballast of booze"; "I'm not an elderly man with the heart of a child. I'm a child whose envelope has grown slightly worn."

From his youth, he would watch movies on the beach that were projected on a sheet. At age 11, he felt the first stirrings for the opposite sex, and felt that the 15 year old boys who "stole" them away were "decrepit." Far from the electronic gadgets that thrill today's youth, in a couple of stories he mentions the thrill of seeing the optical phenomenon of the "green flash" at sunset. There was the "You Can't Go Home Again" quality of a visit to a childhood home: "The only thing you can open with them are doors that no longer exist." "Brazil" was his aunts who went to pathways in a cemetery. His essay "Like Us," reminded me of Lawrence Ferlinghetti's poem "I am waiting" in the collection A Coney Island of the Mind, Poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti l Summary & Study Guide. And in terms of universal and now contemporary themes, one story contains a priest who stroked his knees, and asked about his "chastity," but quickly moved away when his aunts entered the room.

Antunes has obviously been an intense observer of the human condition, and this is clearly reflected in Part III, where he dazzles with the incisive depictions of an incredible range of characters, mainly those enveloped in despair and desperation (most of humanity?). There is the banality of life, with people wearing almost identical purple and green track suits, going to the mall, bringing back someone else's wife, and does anyone notice? There are the disenchantments of lengthy marriages: a wife who discovers that her sister has been having a long term affair with her husband, and will seek revenge with the gigolos in Spain; the wife who doesn't want her husband to die now because people are watching, which was payback for a marriage filled with slights. There is the loneliness of a divorcee whose mom nags her about her weight, as she "listens to the pile of her carpet grow." These are only a small sampling of the themes and characters which Antunes addresses and depicts.

A couple of his stories involved his experiences as a medical doctor in Angola during its war of independence, but I had hoped for more. His outlook might well have been contained in the story "Life Surprises Us Sometimes": "Because the people who weren't there with us and who were not therefore dying were the ba**ards in Luanda and Lisbon, the politicians, the generals, the big businessman..." Perhaps this theme will be further developed in "The Land at the End of the World". I intend to find out, and welcome any other suggestions.

A marvelous book, that yes, Mike, deserves a re-read in five years or less. 6-stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At the zoo talking to the tigers, October 21, 2013
If Raymond Carver is the American master of minimalism and purveyor of domestic dramas in plainchant, then Antunes is Portugal's polyphonic reply as the Iberian Faulkner or Joyce without all the narrative confusion. In the quote above a man sits at a table eating braised rabbit and rehearses all that he wishes to say to his lover, knowing that he lacks the courage, torn as he is to be the dutiful son and care for his ailing mother. He really has the need to talk, to declare his love and yet he won't because he can't. His beloved will love Carlos, the other man in her life. It would seem that everyone in Portugal has a lover on the side without blinking. In the end the repetition of "feeding corn to the chickens" announces, with the repeated throwing down of corn to the floor, his resignation.

Antunes is a trained psychiatrist and he is an astute observer of the human emotional and mental landscape. Most of his stories - there are 107 of them in this volume - have some form of interior dialogue and introspective journey, whether it is the man recalling childhood, a dying woman recalling happier days, or a spouse speaking of destructive routines and infidelity (his and hers). Speaking is key to all these stories; Antunes is a masterly storyteller because the reader is privy to multiple conversations, imagined questions and answers, announcements and wished-for declarations in flowing paragraphs of discourse that break traditional syntax. You shouldn't be able to follow the conversation but you are in the conversation as it unfolds emotionally and logically. The sentences should not work but they do.

Equally admirable is that all 107 stories in this volume are 600 to 800 words long. In the world of `flash fiction' each of the 107 stories are crown jewels. Antunes dismisses these particular writings as divertissements or `entertainments.' He writes novels on the side (I write that with humor). These stories appeared as weekly contributions to the O Público newspaper. The Portuguese word for these stories is crónicas, a rather misleading word since Antunes is true to its etymological truth: chronicles.

The stories are occasionally dark but there is humor. Antunes dislikes using computers for writing. There is the woman who waits for her lover, recalling that he was upset and frustrated with her bra in their last amorous encounter, so she buys "a black lace bra today that opens at the front." There is the poetic: God is not absent in the modern world. He just takes His time making a decision and loves jazz. Antunes depicts the ordinary in extraordinary ways, from simplicity to the tragic, from the joyous to the profoundly heartbreaking: the divorced woman is plagued by her mother about her weight or the slow toll of death by cancer, seen from within and without. Who else could enumerate the loss of childhood innocence by entitling the short story as `Who Had To Murder Me To Make Me So Sweet?' The title story of the volume is a story of a writer working through writer's block.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Miniature masterpieces of nostalgia and mortality, September 20, 2010
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Based on THE FAT MAN AND INFINITY, António Lobo Antunes is a major author, whose relative obscurity in this country - despite having had at least ten works translated into English - is rather baffling. He has never been mentioned in "The New York Review of Books", at least according to its search engine. His Wikipedia profile is eleven sentences long. There is, however, an excellent article on him by Peter Conrad in the May 9, 2009 issue of "The New Yorker". Conrad reports that in Portugal the fans of Lobo Antunes claim that the wrong man won the Nobel Prize when it was awarded to his countryman José Saramago in 1998.

Lobo Antunes, born in 1942, went to medical school and shortly after graduation served a three-year stint as a doctor in Angola in the midst of the harrowing war for independence. Upon his return to Portugal he continued to practice medicine, with a specialty in psychiatry. Somehow he managed to find the time to write more than twenty books. He has also written for various Portuguese publications weekly or biweekly columns or "crónicas", which have been collected in three separate volumns. THE FAT MAN AND INFINITY brings those three volumns of crónicas together, superbly translated by Margaret Jull Costa (who has also given us marvelous translations of other Iberian authors, among them Javier Marías).

Most of the pieces are three or four pages long. All of them are written in the first person. Two of the volumes of pieces purport to be non-fiction - memoirs, reminiscences, or ruminations. The third volume collects stories - fictional emotional x-rays. To my mind, the non-fiction pieces are better. Indeed, some of them are among the finest short pieces I have ever read. They generated the same sort of excitement within me as when I first discovered the prose narratives of W.G. Sebald.

Collectively, the non-fictional pieces are miniatures of nostalgia and mortality. Again and again, Lobo Antunes evokes the fragile bittersweet moments of childhood, the objective details of which are solidly grounded in Lisbon and its environs, but the subjective spirit of which is universal. Interlaced with the nostalgia are variations on the theme of this fugitive life.

"* * * but there was no death, for a long time there was no death, death was the little oval images of saints in my mother's prayerbook, I was eternal, at what precise point, I wonder, did I cease to be eternal, I who was eternal for so many years * * *"

The fictional stories are almost all rueful narratives about a life turned sour - the flames of love have died or the infirmities of age and the inevitability of death no longer can be ignored. In most, the narrators stoically insist that they are happy, though their accounts reveal bleak and hollow lives. In their grubbiness and blinkered despair, the stories somehow remind me of those of Raymond Carver.

In one piece, Lobo Antunes relates that he had wanted to be a writer since being a young boy. At age fourteen he sent a few pieces to a periodical and they were published in a section called "New Young Writers." "Seeing my work in print filled me with doubts: I began nebulously to understand that there was a difference between writing well and writing badly. Later on, the realization that there existed an even greater difference between writing well and creating a work of art brought on a feeling of full-blown angst."

Lobo Antunes not only writes well but in THE FAT MAN AND INFINITY he has created two dozen or so true works of art. One needs to read them slowly, absorb them and only then savor them. Reading the book is much like a trip to the Louvre or the Prado; to begin to do justice to the works, one must limit oneself to four or so on each trip. But what a reward! THE FAT MAN AND INFINITY, especially the first two volumes of non-fiction pieces, gets my highest recommendation.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Stories but a little dark, July 27, 2011
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This review is from: The Fat Man and Infinity: And Other Writings (Hardcover)
The comment that Antunes is a better writer than Jose Saramago convinced me to read his book. The book is a series of newspaper columns written by Antunes over the years. Each segment is 3 or 4 pages in length and makes for easy pick up and put down. The stories are not sequential and stand alone. As does Saramago, Antunes uses a writing technique that prevents skimming; they want the reader to slow down and think of what he is reading. Antunes puts a paragraph space in a sentence, and inserts in paretheses another related thought. I find many of his stories dark: couples are breaking up dying or disapearing with their belongings. One wonders about Antunes' marital status, he appears to have a daughter. A better comparison with Saramago's work would be a novel by Antunes.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Out of the shadow, May 13, 2013
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Antonio Lobo Antunes is, definitively an author in shade of Saramango. Once discovered it it the pleasure to know his writings.
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The Fat Man and Infinity: And Other Writings
The Fat Man and Infinity: And Other Writings by Antonio Lobo Antunes (Hardcover - February 16, 2009)
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