Written by Miguel Sousa Tavares (trans. Peter Bush)
Review by Mike Ashworth

Luis Bernardo Valenca is a 37-year-old gentleman who owns a small shipping company. He lives a comfortable life, mixing with Lisbon’s high society and writing about politics in his spare time. However, his pampered and protected lifestyle is turned upside down when he is asked by King Dom Carlos to become governor of the tiny island of Sao Tome e Principe situated off the coast of equatorial West Africa. The English believe that slavery, although illegal, is still being practised on the island and are sending a diplomatic envoy to check out the situation.

The storyline is one of conflict, both physical and mental. Tavares struggles to persuade the plantation owners and overseers to improve the working conditions of the Angolan labourers who are slaves in all but name. At the same time he must also deal with his own emotional and moral challenges, including his passionate love affair with the wife of the British envoy.

Beautifully written, the descriptions of the island are vivid while the characters, with all their flaws and strengths, are strongly portrayed. This is an enjoyable read that will remain on my bookshelf to be read again. Recommended.