The Land at the End of the World

Written by Antonio Lobo Antunes Margaret Jull Costa (trans.)
Review by Lucille Cormier

Dr. Antonio Lobo Antunes served in the Portuguese army from 1971-1973 as a medic in Angola’s war for independence. The Land at the End of the World is his autobiographical account of these years. The novel was first published in Portuguese in 1979. This is the first complete English translation. It has twenty-six chapters titled A through Z.

The story is essentially a stream-of-consciousness monologue. The author recounts his memories to an unnamed prostitute over the course of a night. It is a fevered and disjointed telling of an experience that has forever changed him. The author/protagonist leads us, Virgil-like, into early moments of his childhood, his marriage, arrival in Angola, camp life, ambushes and his work trying to reassemble broken bodies, watching comrades’ bodies being nailed into lead-lined coffins, receiving news of the birth of his daughter, the end of his marriage, and his isolation as a soldier returning from combat into a world that neither knows nor cares about what happened to the men on the plains and jungles of Angola.

Page after page of surreal descriptions filled with exquisite metaphors place the reader directly into the experience of soldiering. There is no distance between the author and the reader. We are in his head for the duration, and it is a frightening place to be. It is impossible here to capture the anguish, terror, anger, and disillusionment the author so ably conveys.

To say that The Land at the End of the World is a powerful book would be to reduce it to a cliché. It is the literary twin of Guernica—and that is enough to convey where it stands in the world of literature.