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Luís Cardoso: Crónica de uma travessia: A época do ai-dik-funam (The Crossing)

This book is technically a memoir but written like a novel so it is here. The narrator, nicknamed Takas (= high heels, for the Cuban heels he used to wear) tells a story similar to ones we have seen in other similar autobiographical novels/memoirs such as this one. He is a young man from a relatively poor family, whose parents have had little formal education and lives in a colonial country. Things are not always easy, with the father’s employment not always steady. However, his parents are determined that he should be educated and, with the help of the colonial system, possibly but not always the church, he does get an education but does not always behave well and ends up struggling but eventually succeeds (more or less) because he has written the book we are reading.

Takas more or less conforms to this model though, of course, there is the added issue of a major war of independence. Indeed, we start with the family in 1990, living in Portugal but we soon get the family history. Takas’ father is committed to Portugal, which did not stand him in good stead with the Japanese, during the war, the Indonesians in the current period and, of course, the East Timor independence movement. However, he managed to get some education and became a male nurse. Eventually, after Takas was born, he had to move and we get a fascinating account of their journey, accompanied by a prisoner, Simão who is a lively character and whose career we will follow for a while. Takas goes off to study and, eventually, goes to a seminary where is not particularly happy, both because of the strict regimen but also because he does not really feel the calling but knows that this is the best way to get a decent education. He also cannot enjoy himself the way he would like to. But, eventually, this does not work out for him and he has to leave. He goes back to school and works hard to fulfil his father’s expectations of him. But, like many of his generation, wishes to retain his cultural identity. He criticises the way the Portuguese have deprecated Timorese culture and tries to stick true to his roots, while also being modern.

His work pays off and he is able to get a scholarship to Portugal but this is the time of the Portuguese Revolution and the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. He follows it from afar and eventually becomes involved with Timorese groups in Portugal. Meanwhile, his father has managed to get to Portugal but he is growing old and Takas has problems looking after him. It is a very well told tale, with interesting stories and views of Timorese culture and the Timorese people as well as a perception of Portuguese colonialism and what it meant to East Timor. It would be nice to see more books from this newly emerging independent country.

Publishing history

First published in 1997 by Dom Quixote, Lisbon
First published in English in 2000 by Granta
Translated by Margaret Jull Costa