Read of the Week

The Return

Dulce Maria Cardoso

MacLehose Press

Review: Lauren O’Connor-May

All the other reviews I read for The Return raved about it. I, however, had a few major miffs that made me not enjoy it thoroughly.

The book was translated from Portuguese and is based on the author’s experience of having left Angola at the age of 11.

It is the story of a Portuguese colonist family going back to “the Motherland” because of the escalating conflict that would culminate into the Angolan Civil War.

It is told from the viewpoint of Rui, a horny, teenaged boy, whose prevailing opinion throughout the book, like most teens, is “poor me”.

I battled to relate to Rui’s problems. He was leaving behind a lavish life built on the backs of the Angolan people and staying for free in a cramped five-star hotel while an array of people were solving all his problems for him.

Throughout the story, Rui makes ethically questionable decisions that made it harder and harder for me to like his character.

On the cusp of their escape, Rui and his family are confronted by rebels at their home. Rui and his father go out to meet the heavily-armed men, who are parked outside in a Jeep. Needless to say, the encounter doesn’t end well but there is a telling piece among the first scenes that captures the tone of the rest of the book.

It reads: “The soldiers’ eyes are as muddy as the mountains and their uniforms are soiled with sweat. Only us, the soldiers and the early afternoon sun on the street. I remember a football game on the clay pitch next to school, the game at which Lee called another player a black f*** because he did a clever feint. My heat beats faster. The black f*** might be the soldier with the square face and the half-shut eyes coming back to take revenge. It was a spat like so many others, black f***, it was not an insult, we called Lee four-eyes and when he annoyed us we called him four-eyed f***, we called Gegé lanky but also lanky f*** when we were being rowdy, black f*** was not an insult and only a black could take offence to the point of wanting to hit Lee. Gegé and I held the black lad and Lee gave him a good punch in the stomach. The black lad stumbled out of the field, I hope he learned his lesson, said Lee … No, it isn’t him. There are lots of blacks with square faces and eyes half shut as if they were difficult to open. It’s not this one.”

Or how about this one: “The soldiers laugh and so does Father, it looks as if everything is alright, as if they are all men having a good time, but they aren’t, if Father had a choice, if he could have chosen to laugh it would be different, Father had to laugh. Before it was Father who chose when to laugh, what’s your name, Má* átia, boss, what a matumbo, you can’t even say your name properly, Malaquias also had to laugh when Father laughed, now it’s Father’s turn to be the last one to laugh.”

The book does not have a glossary but is littered with foreign words with unclear cultural contexts and if you also found the irregular grammar and punctuation painful, then don’t buy this book because the quotes above are verbatim and the confusing grammar continues throughout the book.