Los memorables. Lídia Jorge. Translated by Ma. Auxilio Salado Pérez. Mexico City: Elefanta Editorial. 2020.
The Carnation Revolution, which took place in Portugal on April 25, 1974, was a military uprising that overthrew the so-called Estado Novo [New State], a dictatorial regime that ruled the country for many long years. The case of Portugal is often cited when people speak of revolutions that were carried out by peaceful means. Civilians, despite instructions to stay in their homes, went spontaneously out into the streets, mingling with the insurgent soldiers. Hours later, a crowd of people holding carnations coursed through Lisbon. After April 25, the political prisoners of the dictatorship were released, and, little by little, the Portuguese political panorama began to change. 1974 became seen as yet another factor in the geopolitical chessboard of Europe and the Cold War.
Portuguese author Lídia Jorge (Boliqueime, 1946) uses the Carnation Revolution as her starting point to give shape to Los memorables, a novel published originally in 2014 and in Ma. Auxilio Salado Pérez’s Spanish translation by Elefanta Editorial in 2020. The title of the book allows for two interesting interpretations. On one hand, there are “the memorable ones,” the people who carried out the revolution, and on the other, the ever-hazy concept of memory. As in the case of all literature that attempts to probe deep waters, the historical events that appear in the narrative are, in the end, mere pretenses for entering into a dialogue with human experience and, above all, for interrogating it. Memory, in this case, is the subject that pulses behind each dialogue and each passage that Lídia Jorge intertwines with the history of her country. The eternally fruitless reconstruction of truth links her with another Portuguese author: António Lobo Antunes. In both, there is a fragmentation of discourse and a renunciation of the narrative that seeks certainty. Reality, they seem to tell us, is something evanescent; protean and indefinite matter. Antunes embarks on his reconstruction through the hallucinatory monologues of his characters, and Lídia Jorge writes different discourses, which, like the brushstrokes of a painting that appear to be unconnected, offer, at a distance, a complete reading. Despite the predictable defeat, the work of the writer is to interpret history from the partiality of language. Only time will tell if the text was a mere companion to our crisis or if it will continue to speak to us of the crises that are yet to come.
The history recounted in Los memorables is that of Ana Maria, a Portuguese journalist who returns to her native country to make a documentary about the Carnation Revolution. To begin the task, she returns to her father’s house (he is also a journalist) and sets about collecting data and information that will be useful for her project. Thus, as the chapters of the novel progress, we understand that Ana Maria’s history is that of Portugal after the return to democracy following the fall of the dictatorship, and of the new generations who grew up in a country that was different from that of their parents and grandparents. As a common thread—Proust’s madeleine—the journalist uses a photograph: a group of revolutionaries pose before a camera without knowing what will become of their lives in the years ahead. A soldier, a cook, and poets, among other characters, function as micro-histories that attempt to span the totality of the Portuguese people. These characters, in addition to their own vicissitudes, bring us into the different layers of Portuguese society. The reunion held years later, made piece by piece through Ana Maria, is a map featuring voices, conflicts, despair, and aspirations. She, in spite of her doubts, like an exemplary journalist, knows when to quiet her voice so that memory can speak through the photograph.
The language of Lídia Jorge moves far away from the lyricism that is routinely associated with the Portuguese narrative of the twentieth century, a prose whose atmosphere evokes, as one could guess, fado, the musical style that, curiously, was promoted by the dictatorship to fuel nationalism and tradition. The prose of Los memorables is closer to a language interested in substance over form. It is in the setup of the novel, in its structure, where innovation occurs: the focal point of the narrative comes and goes like some sort of pendulum that returns, almost always, to the main character. In this back and forth, we learn about the relationship between father and daughter, and also about the reconstruction of the days when the dictatorship was toppled and the insurgent soldiers coursed through the streets brandishing carnations. Through the contrast between two people of different generations, we come to understand a large part of Portuguese history.
One interesting aspect of Jorge’s novel is that through the characters in the photograph we witness Portugal’s insertion into modernity in the last decades of the twentieth century and the new century. “My writing is born from the dream and from the people,” the writer stated in a recent interview; and this intention is palpable in her novel. On one side, we have the utopia of a peaceful transition, a countercurrent to the events that flooded the bipolar world created after the Second World War with blood. On the other side, we read about the dilemmas of a country that, like so many others, handed over its destiny to the market economy and so-called liberal democracy. Conquered freedom became a cage that curbed people’s individual and collective actions. Without falling into historical determinisms or Manichaean stances, the author describes the disillusionment of the working class with a world that kept abandoning its promises and turning them into dust-filled relics. For this reason, Los memorables is also a social chronicle familiar to our countries.
Los memorables is a rich approach to memory and the mechanisms that activate it. Likewise, it shows us that the future has superimposed itself on our present. The narrative that exerted a true counterweight on traditional totalitarianisms seems very far from us. We are facing a new world in which symbols are ephemeral and perhaps volatile. Literature, in this sense, is not just resistance, but also a way of capturing memory in order to diagnose what is coming. Histories like that of Lídia Jorge, told with minutiae and sensitivity, can help us in this task.
Translated by Whitni Battle
Middlebury Institute of International Studies