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Take Six :Six Portuguese Women Writers

Translator: Margaret Jull Costa   Edited by: Margaret Jull Costa   Cover design: Marie Lane   Cover illustration: Paula Rego  

This anthology is a double celebration, firstly, of six brilliant
Portuguese women writers and, secondly, of the short story
form, at which they all excel. Relatively few books are
translated into English – the famous three per cent of all
books published – and even fewer of those are books written
by women. Still fewer are collections of short stories, which
most publishers steer well clear of, claiming that readers want
novels. What these writers all embrace and embody is the
concise perfection of the short story, which is the closest thing
we still have to oral culture: a tale that can be told in a matter
of minutes and one that, at its best, encapsulates a whole life
in a few pages.
The six authors in this anthology represent some of
Portugal’s finest writers from this century and the last. They
also happen to be six of my favourite authors. Some have
been translated before, others have not. It is therefore, a great
pleasure, to introduce those who have not to an Englishreading
While these six writers are all very different, there
are connecting threads. All have a keen sense of political
injustice and repression. ‘The Silence’ by Sophia de Mello
Breyner Andresen reveals how political oppression (in this
case Salazar’s regime) soils the whole of society and our
own personal peace. Maria Judite de Carvalho’s story, ‘So
Many People, Mariana’, paints an ironic portrait of bourgeois
Lisbon life and of a society poisoned by the hypocrisy of the fascist government of the time. Agustina Bessa-Luís’s ‘Green
Philosophy’ is, among other things, a searing depiction of
abject poverty. ‘The Familiar Stranger’ and ‘The Road to
Emmaus’ are oblique revisitings of Bible stories, both seamed
with a subtle criticism of our own self-absorbed age.
Another preoccupation is, inevitably, the position of
women in society. Maria Judite Carvalho shows us the gradual
isolation of a woman who fails to conform to what society
expects of women. Teolinda Gersão shows us women in
all kinds of situations and at different ages. Hélia Correia,
meanwhile, describes women in a way which is both familiar
and bizarre, often with the fates or the furies in attendance, but
her female characters are always circumscribed by society’s
The writing is never heavily moralistic or ploddingly
realistic. All of the authors have an awareness of the comic
element present in any human tragedy, and many of the stories
take wing into the realms of fantasy. Agustina Bessa-Luís’s
stories have a fantastical, almost delirious tone, often heading
off into very strange territory indeed; Teolinda Gersão’s stories
have an infallible nose for the fantastical elements present in
everyday lives; and Lídia Jorge brilliantly recreates a child’s
naturally hyperreal view of the world, in which adults are too
absorbed in their own lives to notice a small child’s anguish.
Obsession is another connecting thread. The protagonist of
‘The Bird Hypothesis’ is irrationally obsessed with proving
a theory put forward by Borges in one of his stories. The
woman in ‘The Red Fox Fur Coat’ can think of nothing but
that eponymous coat. The father in ‘The Age of Splendour’
can think only of his Latin and his rhinitis, while his little girl
is obsessed with the precious gift she has made for him. The
favourite uncle in ‘The Instrumentalina’ thinks only of his bicycle; while the ailing young man in ‘The Conch Shell’ is
being driven mad by a particular tune being tunelessly picked
out on the piano upstairs.
Most importantly of all, every one of the stories is, in my
view, a real original, a perfect gem of a short story.


RRP: £9.99

No. of pages: 252

Publication date: 09.03.2018

Re-print date: 21.07.2023

ISBN numbers:
978 1 910213 69 8
978 1 910213 76 6

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