By Maria Gabriela Llansol
Translated from the Portuguese by Audrey Young
English debut with three linked novellas by influential cult Portuguese writer interweaving history, poetry, and philosophy into transcendent literary vision.
Publication Date: September 25, 2018
The Geography of Rebels Trilogy, containing The Book of Communities, The Remaining Life, and In the House of July & August, is Maria Gabriela Llansol’s debut work to appear in English, containing her own earliest novels, written between 1974-1979, an interlinked trilogy of works originally published separately, but published in English together to give readers the chance to witness the breathtaking scope of her work as it was laid out from the very beginnings of her sterling literary career.
“If anyone might be profitably compared to Clarice Lispector, it might well be Maria Gabriela Llansol. This is because of the fundamentally mystical impulse that animates them both, their conception of writing as a sacred act, a prayer: their idea that it was through writing that a person can reach ‘the core of being.’” —Benjamin Moser, author of Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector
“Llansol’s text . . . creates spaces where conjecture and counterfactual accounts operate freely granting a glimpse of an alternative reality.” —Claire Williams, The Guardian
Geography of Rebels presents the English debut of three linked novellas from influential Portuguese writer Maria Gabriela Llansol. With echoes of Clarice Lispector, Llansol’s novellas evoke her vision of writing as life, conjuring historical figures and weaving together history, poetry, and philosophy in a transcendent journey through one of Portugal’s greatest creative minds.
Maria Gabriela Llansol (1931-2008) is a singular figure in Portuguese literature, one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, yet never before translated into English. Although entirely unknown in the United States, she twice won the award for best novel from the Portuguese Writers’ Association with her textually idiosyncratic, fragmentary, and densely poetic writing; other recipients of this prize include José Saramago and António Lobos Antunes. Upon her death in 2008, she left behind twenty-seven published books and more than seventy unpublished notebooks, all of which evade any traditional definitions of genre. Despite this body of work, only a few short pages have ever been translated into English. She was born in Lisbon, where her bibliophile father was chief accountant at a paper factory and her doting mother a housewife. She graduated with a degree in law from Lisbon University in 1955 and two years later obtained a degree in educational sciences. She then ran a nursery school before publishing her first short stories in 1962, inspired by her interaction with children. In 1965 she and her husband Augusto Joaquim moved to Belgium, in voluntary exile from the repressive regime of António de Oliveira Salazar. She would spend twenty years there in voluntary exile, teaching at the local school, translating Rimbaud and Baudelaire, and reading medieval mystics.The experience of educating children from a variety of backgrounds and nationalities - some with problems such as autism or Down's syndrome - influenced her work considerably. So did the perspective afforded by living and working in a foreign language, in an isolated community far from home. The couple became part of a cooperative that ran an experimental school, and also made and sold furniture and food.
Unlike her contemporaries back in Portugal, she did not write to describe reality, but rather to exist through the process of writing. Eliding any sense of plot, her texts instead transcribe the movements of bodies and animals and light. (They “correspond to inner earthquakes,” she would say in an interview.) Her first novel, The Book of Communities, was published in 1977. It is the first volume of Geography of Rebels, a trilogy of novellas mapping a series of encounters between poets, mystics, beguines and heretics, all of which take place in another version of the medieval war between peasants and princes in Central Europe. Llansol appropriates figures like Saint John of the Cross and Thomas Muntzer and pulls them into a transhistorical dialogue, constructing a succession of what she calls “luminous scenes,” where they coexist outside of time. In the mid-1980s she moved back to Portugal, to the historic hilltop town of Sintra, and from then on published almost one book a year, largely ignored by the general public but gradually gathering a loyal, diverse group of readers, including academics and even the current president of the European commission, José Manuel Barroso, who has called her writing "intense and sublime".
Audrey Young is a translator, researcher, and archivist. She received a Fulbright grant to research non-theatrical film in Portugal and studied Portuguese language and culture at the University of Lisbon with a scholarship from the Instituto Camões. She has worked at the Getty Research Institute, the Cineteca Nacional México, and the Arquivo Nacional do Brasil, among other archives.
One of EuropeNow's Best Translations of 2018
“Imagine Clarice Lispector speaking with specters. Imagine Emily Dickinson seeking and finding a community. Imagine Hilda Hilst rebelling further into the madding crowd. Imagine Virginia Woolf as a Lisbon-born medium channeling displaced waves of consciousness. Imagine Fernando Pessoa as a woman building edenic spaces outside of our time-space continuum. If you can imagine some amalgamation of these descriptors, you may come close to conjuring up the writings of Maria Gabriela Llansol, but you can never quite know their protean beauty until you have entered these textual landscapes for yourself, and discovered the alternate realities they open up, where time feels simultaneously historical and ahistorical, and space simultaneously geographical and ageographical. We are fortunate that Audrey Young has translated Llansol’s Geography of Rebels Trilogy into English for the first time. Now we no longer have an excuse to overlook Llansol’s idiosyncratic genius.” —Tyler Malone, Literary Hub
"This is an astonishing, otherworldly and utterly original book, and it reveals Llansol as one of the most fascinating Portuguese writers of the twentieth century." —Annie McDermott, Times Literary Supplement
“I am intrigued and mesmerized by Llansol’s prose, her mysterious and beautiful sentences that push the novel beyond its usual constraints, and, at times, approach prose poetry. Like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, Llansol’s method is a radical one and, for those readers who like to be challenged, worth checking out.” —Gary Michael Perry, FOYLES in Charing Cross (London, UK)
"Reading Geography of Rebels is an unforgettable experience. Llansol’s hallucinatory prose is genuinely transfixing." —Joshua Tait, The Carolina Quarterly
"Her idiosyncratic, highly creative texts reached beyond conventional "figurative" writing. . . . In particular, her narrators function almost as a medium, or channel, for a series of fluctuating identities and voices or visitors (figures) who inhabit her consciousness and engage in discussion among themselves. Llansol's text also creates spaces where conjecture and counterfactual accounts operate freely - granting a glimpse of an alternative reality. She created iconoclastic, anti-nationalist texts that deflated mythical figures and representations of the past. She stressed Europe's evolution through the growth of free will, free thought and flourishing artistic and scientific developments." —Claire Williams, The Guardian
"A commotion of a novel. With abrupt sentences and a narrative that darts, swerves, and veers, it is a perplexing read, but in a way that innervates, rather than discourages.” —Benjamin, Librarie Drawn & Quarterly (Montreal, QC)
"Intense and sublime." —José Manuel Barroso, former president of the European Commission
“Abstract, speculative thought, difficult in its way, but Maria Gabriela Llansol makes it sing.” —Anthony Brown, Times Flow Stemmed
“Her figures are subjected to deformations and subject to a series of precise sensations. It is the precision of thought that gives her story clarity and makes it a container for speculative questions about the nature of writing and close reading. I found reading The Book of Communities an intensely felt experience, nervous as much as cerebral. It is a lived experience of Merleau-Ponty’s essay on language not residing purely in the brain, but being something we do with our bodies, words are “a certain use made of my phonatory equipment, a certain modulation of my body as a being in the world.” In that sense, like poetry, it is a book that benefits by being read aloud, playing with the elisions and sound structures. Its translator, Audrey Young, from what I can tell from comparing its original online, has done an outstanding job of retaining its rich tone and rhythm.” —Time's Flow Stemmed
“Imagine if Don Mclean’s song American Pie was written about Christian mysticism instead of rock-n-roll. Llansol immerses her readers in a shared hallucinatory vision, seemingly fueled by religious hysteria and open to multiple interpretations. . . . There is magic in how Llansol puts words together—and more of the poet in her than the prose writer. . . . Llansol is a writer’s writer, unrestrained and reckless in her use of language. And wholly uninterested in catering to the general reading public. Which brings us to what many would say is the major challenge in Llansol’s work. The trilogy has more in common with a medieval Book of Hours than modern fiction. . . There is a phosphorescent brilliance here. And for those who can stay the course, rewards to be had.” —Tara Cheesman-Olmsted, The Quarterly Conversation