Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 5, 2018

Saudade, by Suneeta Peres da Costa, #BookReview

Saudade, I must confess, had a bit of novelty value for me because I’d never read anything from Angola before, and knew almost nothing about the country except that it was a former Portuguese colony somewhere in Southern Africa.  Wikipedia came to the rescue so now I know that it is bordered by Namibia to the south, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the north, Zambia to the east, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Its people endured the common African route to independence: civil war between pro- and anti-communist groups after the declaration of independence in 1975 with interference from foreign powers (the USSR and the US), aided and abetted by their allies (Cuba and South Africa). Since 2002, it has become a relatively stable state, whatever that means…

Suneeta Peres da Costa is a Sydney author and playwright, born to parents of Goan origin.  Saudade (which means melancholy, nostalgia and yearning in Portuguese) is her third title, following her debut novel Homework (1999) and Safran und Salz (2002).  Saudade is a young girl’s coming of age story, set in Angola in 1961 as it confronts independence, a reprise of the situation when her parents fled Goa which was also a Portuguese colony until India annexed it in 1961.  As civil unrest escalates, the characters all experience saudade… Maria Christina sees it in her boyfriend Miguel’s ‘s face:

Awake, this face was full of sadness, a saudade – a lostness, a feeling of not having a place in the world.

Complicating matters is the repressive authoritarian regime (1932-1968) under Salazar in Portugal.  The Portuguese Colonial War (a.k.a. The War of Liberation, 1961-1974) began under Salazar’s rule and it was only when there was a military coup in Portugal that the war came to an end.   Miguel’s parents, like Maria’s, had left political trouble to come to Angola yet now they did not know how to return to a life they had forgotten.  Maria’s family monitors Salazar’s state of health because they are hoping he will die.

For Maria, adolescence means the usual conflicts with her mother over trivial things like makeup, but it also means questioning the assumptions of a racist colonial society.  She is uneasy about the privilege she has, and she questions her parents’ complicity in colonial rule while they are dependant on their Angolan servants.  Her affection for Miguel, a factory foreman and therefore not of her class, is tempered by her confusion about communism.  Paolo calls him a colonial  sympathiser and a spoilt petit bourgeois and she is suddenly riven, although [she] could not have said to what ideology, or whose, [she] owed her allegiance.  When the factory is to close because the owner has decided to relocate to Lisbon, he does not know what to do.  He has been supporting his parents, but he is ambivalent about becoming a soldier – he’d rather be a mercenary, and she realises that his enigmatic remarks about how nothing could go on forever have connotations for their fledgling relationship.

I thought I loved him but suddenly realised that this kind of love was a feeling that could pass. (p.99)

(You don’t need to be in a country experiencing civil unrest to experience this feeling that relationships are transient.  Anyone who moves frequently in childhood soon learns not to become attached to anyone, to be independent, and not to be needy).

The novella (114 pages) is written in 11 chapters, each one written in one paragraph.  This doesn’t feel awkward, because the size of the pages in this edition is only 15cm x 16cm, and the text flows readily from one page to another.  The compact text, for me, provoked exploration of a political situation with which I was unfamiliar, which once again, has enriched my understanding of the world I live in, and the refugees who have made Australia their home.

Tony at Messenger’s Booker also reviewed this title. 

*The map of Angola is from Wikipedia Commons, uploaded by Alvaro1984 18 – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7409963

Author: Suneeta Peres da Costa
Title: Saudade
Publisher: Giramondo Publishing, 2018
ISBN: 9781925336634
Review copy courtesy of Giramondo Publishing

Available from Fishpond: Saudade


Responses

  1. I just glanced at your review because I have this on order from Giramondo. I’ve read several books from Angola (which tend to run a little too heavy in magic realism at times). The Goan–Angolan–Australian links intrigued me.

    • It’s the story of the 20th century for some people… fleeing from one place to another in search of somewhere stable and safe. I think it’s well done, showing it through the eyes of an adolescent because that’s an age for clear-sightedness, even if there’s a naïveté about the complexities of the situation.

  2. This is more or less parallel to Poisonwood Bible. To the best of my knowledge Angola too had a freely elected socialist government. To close to home for the South Africans who paid rightwing forces to start a civil war. I greatly admire the Cubans for all the doctors they supplied Africa while the Americans supplied only guns (and money for guns).

    • Well, it’s funny how Cuba was demonised for so long but now it’s not…


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