By the time you read this blog, I will have arrived in Portugal. Needless to say, I read ahead.
This is a book of short stories set in the Alentejo province of Portugal. I started it at home and, if I didn’t do so on the plane, will finish it on site. Monica Ali is an award-winning author whose work has been translated into thirty languages. I like what I’ve read so far, and am sure the remainder of the book will be equally gripping.
Each chapter features richly drawn, complex characters. Some of the families have lived in the village for generations, some are ex-pats, and some are just passing through. Their stories weave together making the whole greater than the sum of its parts.
All the ex-pats and tourists are disenchanted with their lives, and moving to another place doesn’t help them. Meanwhile, the local Portuguese have very little, and many yearn to be someplace else—e.g., Cape Cod or London—but live their lives as best they can day to day.
The great hope is that Marco Alfonso Rodrigues will come back home and bring prosperity to the district. He is rumored to be “a very big name in the tourist industry… Luxury resorts in Thailand and Singapore. So I have been told.” (p. 45)
In fact, when he does return, villagers, tourists, and ex-pats come together, their jealousies and disappointments colliding. It is not a happy book (although there are touches of humor). Why read it? Because the writing is excellent!
My other do-ahead reading was cookbooks. Eating is one of my favorite travel activities! I enjoy eating fish that have no comparables in the U.S. I relish identifying traditional seasoning patterns for various countries. Sometimes I even eat ahead, so to speak.
This tuna, tomato, and onion salad from My Portugal was great—though my creation didn’t look quite so picture-worthy! I am looking forward to Portuguese port and other wines, and to learning to love salt cod!
One thing I especially look forward to is tasting the differences between Portuguese and Spanish cooking.