by Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen
translated from Portuguese by Alexis Levitin
This is my Portugal choice for the EU Reading Challenge. Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen is best known as a poet but little of her work has been translated into English. This collection of her short stories took me some time to track down but was worth the effort.
The stories tend to have religious or moral themes, which I would usually find offputting, but something about Breyner Andresen’s tone meant they worked for me. It’s a weird tone for stories that are – for the most part – grounded in reality.
The opening story, “The bishop’s dinner”, reads like a Biblical parable. A rich man has two guests in the same evening: a planned visit from the bishop and an unexpected visit from a beggar. The story contrasts how the two visitors are treated, the differing reaction of their host and his staff. The religious undertones are underlined by one character being a bishop and conversations revolving around a local priest, but the tenets of Christianity are far from being on display here.