As Primeiras Coisas (The Former Things), by Bruno Vieira Amaral, has won some of the most prestigious literary awards in Portugal, but it is now about the become the past, as the author prepares to launch in April his next novel. Titled Hoje Estarás Comigo no Paraíso (Today You Will Be With Me in Paradise, in a free translation to English), this is a book inspired in the murder of the author’s cousin, which took place more than 30 years ago.
By Luciana Leitão
His debut novel, As Primeiras Coisas, won four major literary prizes, including Time Out Lisboa’s 2013 Book of the Year award, the 2013 Fernando Namora Literary Prize, the 2013 PEN Narrative Prize and the 2015 José Saramago Prize. Bruno Vieira Amaral, who is in the territory under The Script Road — Macau Literary Festival, talks to mART about writing, readers, his first and the next novel, which will be released to the public next month.
The book that comes out in April took three and a half years of his life. “I was not exclusively writing the book, but in three and a half years my life changed a lot — I abandoned my job [as communication advisor for publisher Bertrand], my youngest son was born, I started dedicating entirely to writing,” he says.
It all started with As Primeiras Coisas. “One of the chapters was about the story of a murder, inspired in a real murder [of his cousin] which took place more than 30 years ago,” he says. From then on, he decided he wanted to know more about it. “Who was that boy? He died at the age of 21. Why did he die that way? What happened in his life which led to that moment of the murder?”
The main character was born in Angola in the 1960s and came to Portugal, after the Carnation Revolution, which ended the colonial war. Still, even though it is inspired in a life event, it is fiction. “At the beginning, I thought about not doing fiction, but, as I came to terms with the facts, I realised I knew less about reality,” he says. As a result, he chose fiction, “to have a glimpse of truth of who was that boy.” For this book, he did some research and talked with relatives. “I talked with his brother, but in the book he has no brother, and that is fiction,” he mentions.
The first novel
As Primeiras Coisas was also inspired in some real life events, even though adapted to fiction. “In the strict sense of the word, it has some autobiographical things, which are diluted in the story,” he says. The story takes place in the district of Amélia, which is an imagined place, based on a neighbourhood where he grew up.
In this neighbourhood live people that were born in the former Portuguese colonies and had to move to Portugal, after the Carnation Revolution. The details of the description of the characters are so vivid, one can ask whether there are inspired in real life individuals. “There are some characters which are inspired in real people, but I hope that, even those who know that world, in the end, conclude all characters are at the same level,” he adds.
He did not aim at doing social or political analysis, even though some readers might have that interpretation. “I wanted to write about something that I knew, I didn’t have to research, I didn’t have to dive into a world which was not my own,” Mr Amaral explains. “I wasn’t trying to give voice to someone (…); when we’re doing fiction, we need to be merciless, we have to show the truth of those characters, even if through made-up facts.”
Mr Amaral is a writer, translator, literary critic and assistant magazine editor who is a regular contributor in some of the Portuguese press. He believes he must write everywhere there is room for it. “I play wherever it is needed — there are different genres, different paces, different audiences, which force me to look to things in a different way,” he says. Contrarily to what some may say, he believes “contamination is great.” In fact, he mentions in As Primeiras Coisas there are “many different genres,” because “everything fits” in a novel.
Still, he believes fiction no longer has room in newspapers and magazines, especially considering the current times. “Fiction is going through a rough moment — people want reality, they are eager to get reality, even though reality is obscure,” he mentions. Nowadays, people “are building their own fiction,” as it can be often seen in social networks, for instance. “We are not what is on Facebook, we build the character.” As a result, he believes people are not willing to read fiction in newspapers and magazines, but, instead, they “want real life stories which look like fiction.” So, literary fiction “will only have a place in books.”