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José Luís Peixoto: The towns of Galveias



Fiction, 2023

José Luís Peixoto firmly anchored himself on the Portuguese literary scene with his debut novel Don’t Look in 2001, but the novel Mestece Galveias is only his first work for adults that can be read in Slovenian – besides the picture book Mother who rained.

In the novel, as the title predicts, Galveias comes to the fore, but although the topography does not play a negligible role, the city before us grows mainly through the stories of its inhabitants. Is it important to add that Galveias is Peixot’s birthplace? Perhaps, but the work goes beyond a kind of (semi)autobiographical return to the place of birth. Rather, it touches on the pathology of rurality, marginality, alienation, loneliness and dislocation. If this makes it work universally, the Portuguese context, all the socio-cultural circumstances that affect the inhabitants of Galveias, should still not be overlooked. In other words, the author peels back the stories in front of us layer by layer and thus paints an identity image of rural Portugal, but at the same time deconstructs them so that they are spread out before us as primarily human.

The story begins one icy January evening in 1984, when a mysterious celestial body falls on the town of Galveias, and the atmosphere is permeated with a pungent smell of sulfur that persists until the end. Already the opening scene confuses all the protagonists, whose stories we get to know in the following chapters. With such an exposition, the novel opens wide, and the interweaving of different perspectives and the multitude of characters creates a distinct polyphony. The stories intertwine as the lives of the people of Galveias intertwine, and they don’t necessarily end where they begin. It is often left to the reader, if he wants, of course, to assemble the fragments into some kind of meaningful whole.

The dominant third-person narration, which is hardly ever loosened by any retort, seems quite condensed, but thanks to the original description, a kind of poetics that absorbs the harsh reality of the inhabitants of Galveias, it is not breathless, much less stuffy. Moreover, the principle on which the novel is built can also be observed on a stylistic level, as the image often grows from a small motif, and only then does a kind of zoom outwhich introduces a specific character.

Apart from the initial event, there is quite a bit of action, most of it has already happened or is given indirectly. Namely, we follow the characters in a rather limited period of time. The first part takes place in January 1984, and the second nine months later. But we can easily forget that; what Galveias places in time are fleeting, minute references to technological progress or popular culture. One of the more effective is certainly the series Dallas, where Tina Palmada takes refuge, at least with her eyes and thoughts, during the rape. And just like that, maybe a little less radical, are the fates of the characters we read about.

In the first part, we mainly get to know the inhabitants who are firmly tied to or confined to the town, for example the numerous Glavač family or old Justin and his fifty-year dispute with his brother, while in the second part we read about the inhabitants, who have already been penetrated by the foreign world, or by them into it. – Janeiro’s trip to Guinea Bissau, Raquel studying in Lisbon and others. This is, of course, the already known duality of village – city, but Peixot also managed to establish a kaleidoscope of values ​​and characters that depict the multifaceted nature of the social environment. From the attachment to the land, the dependence that they may be more plastically aware of in the countryside (“The earth is all that ever was and that is now disintegrated and mixed up,” says Justino), through the teacher’s attempts at literacy, which are met with resistance, to say the least, to the colonial heritage of Portugal (Janeiro has family in Guinea-Bissau) and connections to Brazil (Brazilian Isabella, who bakes bread and runs a night bar in Galveias). All these views, beliefs, the legacy of history, expectations, disagreements and desires are simultaneously bubbling in Galveias, and the celestial body acts as a kind of final catalyst that reinvents the context and propels the city out of stagnation.

Towards the end, the narrative structure begins to thicken, the novel accelerates and brings us almost in the biblical parallelism of the articles to the conclusion. The quotation from the Gospel according to Luke at the beginning of the novel directly, and the meteor and the sulfurous smell indirectly open the connection to the biblical story of Sodom; the birth of a child that does not finally smell of sulfur has a somewhat cathartic effect on the inhabitants of Galveias. Redemptive? It may also bring new hope. What kind? The smell of a newborn baby is supposed to remind them of their own smell, i.e. it re-conceptualizes a kind of identity, and through the smell, the idea of ​​community, which will nevertheless be preserved, begs. Despite all the permutations? Yes, change does not mean death.

From the show From the book market.

Source: Rtvslo

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