This beautiful book is published by And Other Stories this week.
It isn’t easy to write about the dying and their loved ones without falling into clichés and platitudes, especially in such a beautiful setting as rural northern Portugal: “Grass as tall as children, on the roadside, dancing. In the horizon, hills meeting like lovers. All this in the deepest purple, seconds after the sun sets.”
Yet author and translator manage to keep it both very beautiful and very real. The area itself is dying; the young have moved to the cities and abroad to work and the old are left with their memories: “At the end of the road is a village from which the children have disappeared. And at the end of another road, another village from which the children have disappeared.”
Award-winning journalist Susana Moreira Marques was privileged to travel around Trás-os-Montes with a home palliative care team and tells us who she met and how it felt. Her translator, Julia Sanches, is also on a journey between cultures; born in Brasil, she studied in Edinburgh, lived in New York and Mexico, and is still moving. Thank you Edinburgh Book Festival for introducing me!
Marques’ notes are very honest; you might well recognise them. As she says herself, “any resemblance between these characters and real people is no mere coincidence, and it is highly likely that you know someone in the same situation.” She shares portraits of the woman who runs the village café, an old couple who spent years farming in Angola, a father and his two daughters:
“That week, Sara made it in time to see her father alive, but not to speak with him as they had spoken before. He was incomprehensible. No one could tell whether the drugs were making him hallucinate, whether he was asleep and dreaming , or whether this was just the way men died.”
“When I’m in France, I can’t stop wondering
Is he breathing?
I’ll spend hours like that. When the phone rings, I shudder.
When it doesn’t ring, I just stare at it
It’s going to ring…
I’m scared of enjoying life while all this is happening…”
Marques is astute in noting that “We obsess over lasts as we do over firsts. Last days, last images, last words. We want signs.” Sometimes we find them, sometimes we don’t. This book is part of the search. Read it!