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Ten Great Books set in Lisbon
16th March 2021
Lisbon is the latest location for us to visit in our Great Books series. Ten Great Books set in Lisbon. Lisbon is Portugal’s hilly, coastal capital city. From imposing São Jorge Castle, the view encompasses the old city’s pastel-coloured buildings, Tagus Estuary and Ponte 25 de Abril suspension bridge. Just outside Lisbon is a string of Atlantic beaches, from Cascais to Estoril.
‘Ter a pulga atrás da orelha’ – ‘Having a flea behind the ear’ – Portuguese expression meaning to doubt or distrust
Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier
A huge international best seller, this ambitious novel plumbs the depths of our shared humanity to offer up a breathtaking insight into life, love, and literature itself. A major hit in Germany that went on to become one of Europe’s biggest literary blockbusters in the last five years, Night Train to Lisbon is an astonishing novel, a compelling exploration of consciousness, the possibility of truly understanding another person, and the ability of language to define our very selves. Raimund Gregorius is a Latin teacher at a Swiss college who one day—after a chance encounter with a mysterious Portuguese woman—abandons his old life to start a new one. He takes the night train to Lisbon and carries with him a book by Amadeu de Prado, a (fictional) Portuguese doctor and essayist whose writings explore the ideas of loneliness, mortality, death, friendship, love, and loyalty. Gregorius becomes obsessed by what he reads and restlessly struggles to comprehend the life of the author. His investigations lead him all over the city of Lisbon, as he speaks to those who were entangled in Prado’s life. Gradually, the picture of an extraordinary man emerges—a doctor and poet who rebelled against Salazar’s dictatorship.
Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi
A short novel by the Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi who died March 2012. Salazar’s government at the time was sympathetic to fascism, in similar vein to Mussolini and Franco.
Pereira is a journalist and is asked to set up a Culture section and duly employs Monteiro Rossi, who it turns out is a dissident and Pereira finds himself supporting their cause.
The Return of the Caravels by Antonio Lobo Antunes
The Return of the Caravels is a powerful indictment of Portuguese colonialism and another literary tour de force from the pen of Antonio Lobo Antunes, “the greatest living Portuguese writer” (Vogue). It is set in Lisbon as Portugal’s African colonies gain their independence in the mid-1970s. In a contemporary response to Camoes’s conquest epic The Lusiads, Antunes imagines Vasco da Gama and other heroes of Portuguese explorations beached amid the detritus of the empire’s collapse. Or is it the modern colonials — with their mixed-race heritage and uneasy place in the “fatherland” — who have somehow ended up in sixteenth-century Lisbon? As da Gama begins winning back ownership of Lisbon piece by piece in crooked card games, four hundred years of Portuguese history mingle — the caravels dock next to Iraqi oil tankers, and the slave trade rubs shoulders with the duty-free shops. The Return of the Caravels is a startling and uncompromising look at one of Europe’s great colonial powers, and how the era of conquest reshaped not just Portugal but the world.
The Piano Cemetery by Jose Luis Peixoto
The Lazaro family are carpenters who would rather be piano-makers. In the dusty back room of their carpentry shop in Lisbon is the ‘piano cemetery’, filled with broken-down pianos that provide the spare parts needed for repairing and rebuilding instruments all over the city. It is a mysterious and magical place, a place of solace, a dreaming place and, above all, a trysting place for lovers. Peixoto weaves the tragic true story of the marathon-runner, Francisco Lazaro, into a rich narrative of love, betrayal, domestic happiness and dashed hopes.
All The Names by José Saramago
Senhor José is a lonely civil servant who spends his days labouring in the labyrinthine stacks of Lisbon’s central registry. Among the file-cards for the living and the dead, one – of an apparently ordinary woman – will transform his life. Breaking away from his strict routine, José resolves to track the woman down, obsessively following a thread of clues in a bid to rescue her from an oblivion deeper than the grave.
City of Spies by Mara Timon
943LISBON, 1943. After escaping from Nazi-Occupied France, SOE agent Elisabeth de Mornay, codename Cecile, receives new orders: she must infiltrate high society in neutral Lisbon and find out who is leaking key information to the Germans about British troop movements. As Solange Verin, a French widow of independent means, she will be able to meet all the rich Europeans who have gathered in Lisbon to wait out the war. One of them is a traitor and she must find out who before more British servicemen die.
Complications arise when ‘Solange’ comes to the attention of German Abwehr officer, Major Eduard Graf. As they get to know each other, she struggles to keep her lies close to the truth.
But in a city that is filled with spies, how can she tell who is friend, or foe?
Estoril by Dejan Tiago-Stankovic
Set in a luxurious grand hotel just outside Lisbon, at the height of the Second World War, Estoril is a delightful and poignant novel about exile, divided loyalties, fear and survival. The hotel’s guests include spies, fallen kings, refugees from the Balkans, Nazis, American diplomats and stateless Jews. The Portuguese secret police broodingly observe the visitors, terrified that their country’s neutrality will be compromised. The novel seamlessly fuses the stories of its invented characters with appearances by historical figures like the ex-King Carol of Romania, the great Polish pianist Jan Paderewski, the British agent Ian Fleming, the Russian chess grandmaster Alexander Alekhine and the French writer and flyer Antoine de St Exupery, who forms a poignant friendship with a young Jewish boy living alone in the hotel.
Forest Dancer by Susan Roebuck
Work to impress, dance to express.
It’s a long way to go to create a new life for yourself.
Classical ballerina, Flora Gatehouse, has no choice but to take a risk. Having failed an important ballet audition in London, she moves to a small cottage in a forest just outside Lisbon, Portugal, her only inheritance following her father’s death.
Soon, Flora is involved in village life, where fate takes a new twist when she becomes attracted to forest ranger, Marco. But they are off to a shaky start.
Can Flora find acceptance in a foreign land, in a magical place that harbours secrets and heartache?
Night Train to Lisbon by Emily Grayson
Night Train to Lisbon is a sensuous tale of the pursuit of love and passion against all odds, set in the 1930s when the world was on the brink of war and suspicion of loyalty, motivation, and intent — to both country and lover — was at flood tide.
Carson Weatherell is a privileged young American woman traveling in Europe in 1936, courtesy of her aunt and uncle who live abroad and have kindly offered to show her the sights. A bout of illness and self-pity almost send her back to her sheltered Connecticut life, but on an overnight train to Lisbon, she suddenly can’t imagine returning home. On that train she meets Alec Breve, a young British scientist traveling with a group of colleagues — and in his company, Carson finds that she’s enjoying herself, certainly for the first time since she left New York Harbor, and quite possibly for the first time in her life.
In Lisbon, Carson and Alec begin an intense love affair, but their bliss is threatened when Carson’s uncle reveals that Alec might be a spy for Germany. He insists that it is essential that Alec be trapped and brought to justice, and the only person who can deliver an unsuspecting Alec to the proper authorities is Carson. Desperate to believe in her new love — and terrified of discovering she has fallen for a traitor — Carson must choose whether to prove her lover innocent or leave him to face the consequences on his own.
A riveting page-turner, Night Train to Lisbon travels back to the days when war loomed, the Mitford sisters dazzled, and night trains brimmed with romance and intrigue, delivering a mesmerising novel of a love that must truly conquer all in order to survive.
The Villa of Dreams by Lucy Coleman
Seren Maddison left behind a rainy Britain to follow her dreams and live and work in Lisbon.The vibrancy, the beautiful scenery and the sunshine, made her fall in love and she knew, instantly, that it would be her forever home.
International artist Reid Henderson has homes in Lisbon and London. Following his painful divorce, his dream is to turn his luxurious home into an art school and gallery.
When Seren and Reid first meet there is an instant attraction, but they are both people who have been hurt, and each have dreams that are so far apart, they aren’t even on the same page.
Can they enjoy one summer of happiness together, as life bestows a gift of memories to cherish for the rest of their lives? Or is their destiny to chart a path into the future, in a home where dreams can come true?
Seren and Reid may be about to discover that love is as much about what you are prepared to give up, as what you are prepared to keep hold of.
Enjoy your literary trip to Lisbon! Any books we have missed? Add them in the Comments section below…
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