By Sofia Jesus
The author sets the tone of the novel in a two-line warning printed in a blank page at the beginning of the book: “A detective story, as everyone knows, has its rules. This one hasn’t.”
Longe de Manaus (Far From Manaus, in a free translation to English), by Portuguese writer Francisco José Viegas, is also called “the novel of Portuguese loneliness”. The label couldn’t be more accurate, as the book offers us a profound portrait of a country that let go of its people as they did of it.
In Longe de Manaus, we do have a detective — Jaime Ramos, featured in previous books by the author — and misterious deaths awaiting to be solved. But we have a lot more than that.
While investigating the murder of Álvaro Severiano Furtado — a man found dead in his apartment in the outskirts of Oporto, in Portugal — we embark on a journey of identity and migrations. To Africa. To Brazil. To Portugal, also.
We meet characters that left their country at some point for war, for money, not as much for love. Some returned home, but home was not home anymore. As it wasn’t the home away from home they had left.
In Longe de Manaus, we find lives in limbo. Lonely men and women wondering across continents with biographies forgotten. Some erased; some simply lost in time.
In a beautiful writing style, full of rhythm and rich, lengthy descriptions of people and places, Longe de Manaus is a compulsive read. You get hooked not only for the plot — the solving of the murder — but also for the story of each character you cross paths with.
In Longe de Manaus, even secondary characters — such as agent das Neves — deserve a glimpse into their past, a life story so well told, yet briefly, that makes you want to read a whole book about each of them. A book by the same author, of course.
The novel gets as real as it gets as Francisco José Viegas masterly jumps from writing in Portuguese from Portugal to Portuguese from Brazil, when it suits him. The atmosphere of each place is amazingly portraited through the language used, as well as through endless details of skies and colours and smells and beers and snacks.
Longe de Manaus is like an onion, but sweet. You savour it as you peel it layer by layer. It is not the end that makes it tasty. It is each step of the way till there.
Finally, I liked it when it aknowleges that there are things that can’t be explained. That there are people who do disappear without trace. But nothing ever leaves no trace. Or does it?
Detective Jaime Ramos doesn’t like coincidences. He would not care to know that the book I hold in my hands was given to me by a close friend, some ten years ago, when I was about to leave Portugal to move to Macau. He wouldn’t care the book she gave me was the exact same book she had read on that Summer, still carrying “sand, crumbs from Maria cookies and fingerprints” from her kid named António. I read it only now, in the perfect setting of another Summer in another continent. And I can’t help to smile on how far from Manaus I am. And how close those crumbs make me feel.
Longe de Manaus
Francisco José Viegas
Edições Asa, 2005