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Portuguese Author and Editor Francisco José Viegas Recommends 5 Classic Portuguese Novels

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Francisco José Viegas in a restaurant in Matosinhos

Francisco José Viegas is a Renaissance man. He founded LER, the Portuguese literary magazine, ran the Fernando Pessoa House, was Secretary of State for Culture from 2011 to 2012, and is editor-in-chief of one of the most prestigious Portuguese publishing houses, Quetzal Editores, where he publishes authors such as Kingsley and Martin Amis, Julian Barnes, Saul Bellow, Thomas Bernhard, Roberto Bolaño, Jorge Luis Borges, Claudio Magris, and Mario Vargas Llosa. He also brought into existence an iconic detective called Jaime Ramos, an inspector with the Porto criminal police who travels the world, primarily to former Portuguese colonies including Brazil, Angola and Mozambique, solving mysteries. He describes his detective as such: 

...he lives in one of the most popular districts of the city, right next to Campanhã train station. He lives in a small apartment, books scattered all over the place. He reads them in the winter, because Jaime Ramos only reads in the wintertime. He never feels like reading in the summer. Apart from that, he enjoys fine food and drink, though he isn't a gourmet. Far from it. He enjoys food and he cooks. He smokes cigars. He took to smoking them when cigarette vending machines arrived. At that point, he opted for a change of tactic, because he isn't one to mingle. Not even with cigarette vending machines. 

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Viegas' Jaime Ramos books have been translated into Italian, German, French, and Czech among other languages, although unfortunately not into English...yet. A Brazilian company has optioned for film the novel in which Inspector Ramos goes to Mozambique. 

Viegas, who is from the Douro valley in Portugal, like Jaime Ramos, loves to cook, (he has published a cookbook) and said that when he "cooks, eats or drinks, I become my character."

His characters are all "losers. They are living in the past. They are so pessimistic that they are comical. My greatest joy is when people talk about my characters."

Some of Viegas' favorite crime writers include Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, Raymond Chandler and John Le Carré. But Viegas also knows his literary classics. As a professor of literature and linguistics (as well) he staunchly encourages his students to read the classics. Below is a list of Viegas' recommendations.

The City and the Mountains

Newly translated by Margaret Jull Costa, The City and the Mountains is the story of Jacinto, born in Paris and heir to a vast estate in Portugal which he has never visited. He frequents the crème de la crème of Paris society, but is bored. When he receives a letter from his estate manager saying that the bones of his ancestors are being moved to a newly renovated chapel and would he like to be there, Jacinto sets off with his best friend, the narrator, on a lengthy train journey through France and Spain to Portugal, where they discover country life.


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The Maias

Also newly translated by Margaret Jull Costa The Maias is set in Lisbon at the close of the nineteenth century. Carlos Maia, is heir to one of the greatest fortunes in Portugal, and he would like to do something useful for his country, something that will make his beloved grandfather proud. He is also, however a dilettante... The author zeroes into an inbred society, slowly drifting into decline.

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Baltasar & Blimunda

In early 18th-century Lisbon, Baltasar, a soldier who has lost his left hand in battle, falls in love with Blimunda, a young girl with visionary powers. From the day that he follows her home from the auto-da-fe where her mother is burned at the stake, the two are bound body and soul by love of an unassailable strength. A third party shares their supper that evening: Padre Bartolomeu Lourenco, whose fantasy is to invent a flying machine. As the Crown and the Church clash, they pursue his impossible, not to mention heretical, dream of flight.

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The Brazilian Girl from Prazens

Written in 1882 the book begins with the author describing in a prologue how he came across a desperate letter written by a young woman, Marta de Prazins to José Dias, the man she loves, who is dying. It is the story of Marta and her love for José Dias, and how she ends up being known as the Brazilian of Prazins. It is also a portrait of the social, political and economic conditions in the region of Minho at the time.

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Stormy Isles: An Azorean Tale

Unfortunately out of print, this story takes place on a small mid-Atlantic island, where Margarida Clark Dulmo, member of a noble yet financially declining family, struggles with the secular fatalism of her culture as she anxiously attempts to overcome it.

Olivia is a journalist and editor and manages the editorial content for Bookwitty. She is based in Paris.