By the Rivers of Babylon

Yale Univ. (Margellos World Republic of Letters). Apr. 2023. 248p. tr. from Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa. ISBN 9780300233414. $26.
When José Saramago died in 2010, Antunes arguably became the greatest living Portuguese writer; that same year he published this, his 22nd novel. Taking the Portuguese title from a Camões poem and adapting the English one from the opening of Psalm 137, the novel is structured as an extended monologue of a cancer patient who shares the author’s name. During his rainy two-week hospital stay, as his hold on consciousness weaves in and out, he recalls people and events that ebb and flow. Each of the 15 chapters is one long fragmentary sentence as the narrator conjures up images like trains and rivers in an ongoing cycle of repetitive motifs. Symbolically, the novel takes place in early spring with the renewal of the recollection of events in his life. Costa adroitly translates the elusive, meandering text in this latest addition to Yale’s distinguished “Margellos World Republic of Letters” series.
VERDICT Winner of the Camões Prize, psychiatrist Antunes is a leading international author, and this work has undeniable literary merit. Still, the text is not an easy read; it will appeal mostly to a selective audience that does not shirk from experimental nonlinear narration or absence of plot.
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