A Portuguese novelist dissects his country.
by Peter Conrad , The New Yorker, May 4, 2009
With luck, a novelist can beget new lives, but he is also obliged to commemorate lives that cannot be saved. Back in Lisbon, after the war, Lobo Antunes worked at a hospital that treated children with cancer. The experience provoked a metaphysical rage; he found himself railing against a God who permitted such agony. He watched as a five-year-old boy with leukemia screamed for morphine. When the child died, two orderlies arrived with a stretcher, but the wasted body was so small that they chose to bundle it in a sheet. A foot slumped free of the shroud and dangled ineffectually in the air. Lobo Antunes decided, he said in a recent interview, “to write for that foot.”
Lobo Antunes published his first two novels in 1979. Since then, there have been twenty-one others, earning him a succession of European prizes. He is less well known to American readers, although nearly half of his novels have appeared in English—most recently “What Can I Do When Everything’s on Fire?” (translated by Gregory Rabassa; Norton; $19.95)—and Dalkey Archive has begun to publish earlier, previously untranslated Lobo Antunes works, starting with the 1980 novel “Knowledge of Hell” (translated by Clifford E. Landers; $13.95).