Monica Ali's stunning second book is a collection of stories set in the Alentejo province of Portugal, linked by characters and by a vivid sense of place and time.
Teresa is a beautiful young girl from the village who is supposed to marry a suitable man from the same community but who wants to see the world. Vasco is a café owner who is losing business to the new internet café down the road. The unseemly, dysfunctional, but strangely riveting Pottses are a family of ex-patriots, trying to cobble a life together, at odds with one another until they run into trouble on the outside. We also meet several English tourists: a young couple engaged to be married and confronting each other’s weaknesses and idiosyncrasies for the first time and an older woman imagining a new life, fantasizing about never returning home.
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Monica Ali was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and grew up in England. She was named one of the twenty best young British novelists by Granta and is the author of the novel Brick Lane, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and is now a major motion picture, and Alentejo Blue, a story collection. She lives in London with her husband and two young children.
Anna Fields (1965-2006), winner of more than a dozen Earphones Awards and the prestigious Audie Award in 2004, was one of the most respected narrators in the industry. Trained at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, she was also a director, producer, and technician at her own studio, Cedar House Audio.
At first he thought it was a scarecrow. Coming outside in the tired morning light to relieve his bladder, blessing as always the old Judas tree, João turned his head and saw the dark shape in the woods. It took some time to zip his trousers. His fingers were like enemy agents. They pretended to be his instruments but secretly worked against him.
João walked out beneath the moss-skinned branches thinking only this: Eighty-four years upon the earth is an eternity.
He touched Rui's boots. They almost reached the ground. "My friend," he said, "let me help you." He waited for the courage to look up and see his face. When it came, he whispered in his lacerated old man's voice. "Querido," he said. "Ruizinho."
Standing on the log that Rui had kicked away, João took his penknife and began to cut the rope. He put his free arm across Rui's chest and up beneath his armpit, felt the weight begin to shift as the fibers sprang apart beneath the blade.
The almond blossom was early this year. The tomatoes too would come early and turn a quick, deceiving red. They would not taste of anything. João took Rui's crooked hand in his own and thought: These are the things that I know. It was time to put the broad beans in. The soil that had grown the corn needed to rest. The olives this year would be hard and small.
He sat in the long grass with his back against the log and Rui resting against him. He moved Rui's head so it lay more comfortably on his shoulder. He wrapped his arms around Rui's body. For the second time he held him.
They were seventeen and hungry when they first met, in the back of a cattle wagon heading east to the wheat fields. Rui pulled him up without a word, but later he said, "There's work enough for all. That's what I hear." João nodded, and when the hills had subsided and the great plains stretched out like a golden promise, he leaned across and said, "Anyone who wants work can find it." They moved their arses on the wooden slats and pretended they weren't sore and looked out farther than they had ever seen before, white villages stamped like foam on the blue, the land breaking against the sky.
On the third day they put down at the edge of a small town and the children who ran up to meet the wagon were bitten hard, no different from João's brothers and sisters. João looked at Rui but Rui set his mouth and swung his legs over the side the same as the other men. The older ones got called and went to cut cork or plow the fields while João and Rui stood up tall with their hands in their pockets. João was so hungry he felt it in his legs and his hands and his scalp. They walked through the hovels, the women lining the doorways, the dogs nosing the gutters, and came to the center. "We'll stick together," said Rui. He had green eyes and a fine nose and white skin, as though he had never been out in the sun.
"If someone wants us, he'll have to take us both," said João, as if he were master of his destiny.
They scrounged half a loaf at the café by scrubbing the floor and humping the rubbish to the tip, and slept on the cobbled street with their mouths open. When he woke, the first thing João saw was Rui's face. He thought the pain in his stomach was pure hunger.
Side by side they scavenged and slept. They milled about with the other men waiting for work and learned a lot: how to eke out a few words to last a conversation, how to lean against a wall, how to spit, and how to fill up on indifference.
At the top of the square was a two-story building with bars on the bottom window. João had never seen a prison before. The prisoners sat in the window and talked to friends or received food from relatives. One day a dozen or more people had gathered. João and Rui had nothing else to do.
"He talks about sacrifice. Who is making these sacrifices, my friends? Ask yourselves."
No one looked at the prisoner. They were just hanging around waiting, though there was nothing to wait for.
The prisoner clutched the bars and pressed his face to them. His nose escaped. "Salazar," he said, "is not making sacrifices."
There was a general stirring, as if fear had blown in on the dry wind.
"Listen to me," said the prisoner. His face was thin and pinched, as though he had spent too long trying to squeeze it out of the narrow opening. "In the whole of the Alentejo, four families own three quarters of the land. It was like this too in other countries, like Russia. But now the Russian land belongs to the Russian people."
Each man averted his face from every other. It was not safe to read another's thoughts.
João glanced at Rui. Rui did not know what the others knew, or was too reckless to care. He looked directly at the prisoner.
"The people make the wealth, but the wealth does not belong to the people."
Men withdrew their hands from their pockets as if emptying their savings before leaving town. The prisoner slid his fingers between the bars. "It is forbidden for us to go barefoot. Salazar forbids it." The man laughed, and the laugh was as free as the body was caged. "Look, this is how we must bind our feet. As long as our feet are in slippers and rags, our bellies must be full."
An old man with a bent back, obliged to gaze at feet the long day through, grunted a loud assent. A younger man, blinking back tears of fury, said, "It is true."
The prisoner tipped back into the dark cell as though wrenched by some unknown force, perhaps by the darkness itself. Each free man discovered he had something to do elsewhere.
"Rui," said João, "we better go."
Rui stood with his hands on his hips and tossed his head like a bullfighter. "It's finished," said João. He grabbed Rui's elbow and dragged him away.
Later a man came to the square and beckoned João. "You want to work?"
"Anything," said João. "Please."
"Come," said the man and turned around.
"My friend," said João, looking over at Rui, who whistled and kicked his heels against the wall.
The man kept walking.
"Wait," called João. "I'm coming."
He looked up and saw Rui's hat on a large stone, bathed in a circle of milky light. He imagined Rui sitting there, taking off his hat for the last time.
João's spine was stiff and there was an ache in his chest. He shifted in the damp grass and looked across and saw how oddly Rui's legs were lying. His trousers were hemmed with mud. One boot faced down and the other faced up. For us, thought João, there can be no ease.
He had been there as usual on Thursday, outside the Junta de Freguesia for the game. Everyone was there: José, Manuel, Nelson, Carlos, Abel, and the rest. Only Mario did not come, because Mario had broken his hip. "That Manuel," said Rui, "is a cheating bastard." "That Rui," said Manuel, "is a stupid donkey." Everything went on the way it had for the past eighteen years, since Rui turned up in Mamarrosa, though Rui and João had been the young ones then. "Carlos," said Abel, "you bowl like a woman." "Shut up," said Carlos. "What do you know about women?"
Malhadinha was the best way for men to talk. You rolled the balls out onto the green and rolled the words out after them. You didn't have to face each other.
Afterward they locked the balls in the Junta and went to the café to drink.
"My granddaughter wants to go to Lisbon," said José.
"My son left London and went to Glasgow," said Rui.
"My daughter," said Carlos, "says she will throw me out if I cough once more in the night. But she always says that."
When it was time to go to bed, João walked with Nelson, and Rui walked with Manuel. Sometimes João walked with Manuel. Sometimes he walked with José or Antonio or Mario. But in all those years he had never walked alone with Rui.
João thought he did not want to be the one to return Rui's hat to his wife. He thought and thought about what to do. A bird flew down and landed on the hat's ridge. It was gold with a black head and black feet. João had never seen a bird like that before, and he knew it was a sign that he should keep the hat. Then he remembered about Rui's wife. Dona Rosa Maria had died not last year but the year before that. The day they buried her was a scorcher. July the fourth: memorial day of Isabella of Portugal, patron saint of difficult marriages and the falsely accused.
* * *
When they met for the second time, they were men.
João passed the greenshirt parade in the Praça Souza Prado and climbed the steps up to the Rua Fortunato Simões Dos Santos, heading for his favorite bar. At the top of the steps, he turned and watched as a boy marched out of the ranks and raised his right arm in the infamous salute. João went into the bar and saw Rui. His skin had darkened and his nose was no longer fine (it looked as though it had been broken), but João knew it was Rui because he brought back the pain in João's stomach.
He was talking, drawing people in from the corners of the room. "All I am saying is that a man who owns ten thousand hectares or more and dines on six courses twice a day is living a life of excess. Doesn't the Public Man himself tell us we must restrain our desires?" Rui wore a checked shirt, a frayed jacket, and his hair dangerously long: It came to within an inch of his collar. "Nobody can contradict Salazar."
"But you speak like a . . . a . . ." The man sitting opposite Rui dropped his voice. "A Communist."
"'From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.' That's what they say." Rui waved his hand. "Whoever heard such nonsense? Why should a man work according to his ability? Why should a man receive according to his needs? Imagine what would happen if people took this nonsense into their heads! Álvaro Cunhal" -- he let the name of the Communist Party leader hang for a while -- ...
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Descrizione libro Blackswan, 2006. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Codice libro della libreria mon0000213653
Descrizione libro Black Swan, UK, 2007. Medium Trade Paperback. Condizione libro: New. 301 pages. Multiple copies of this title available. "Alentejo Blue" is the story of the Portuguese village of Mamarrosa told through the lives of those who live there and those who are passing through - men and women, children and old people, locals, tourists and expatriates. For some, such as Teresa, a beautiful, dreamy village girl, it is a place from which to escape; for others - the dysfunctional Potts family - it is a way of running from trouble (but not eluding it). Vasco, a cafe owner who has never recovered from the death of his American wife, clings to a notion that his years in America make him superior to the other villagers. One English tourist makes Mamarrosa the subject of her fantasy of a new life, while for her compatriots, a young engaged couple, Mamarrosa is where their dreams finally fall apart. At the book's opening an old man reflects on his long and troubled life in this beautiful and seemingly tranquil setting, and anticipates the return of Marco Afonso Rodrigues, the prodigal son of the village and a symbol of this now fast-changing world. The homecoming is the subject of continuing speculation, and when Marco Afonso Rodrigues does finally appear, villagers, tourists and expatriates are brought together and jealousies, passions and disappointments must inevitably collide. Quantity Available: 10. Category: Literature & Literary; ISBN/EAN: 9780552771160. Inventory No: 10110809. This item is in stock in our Australian warehouse. We are not dropshippers. Codice libro della libreria 10110809