A Novelist and the Shock of History

Brazil - The Making of a Novel - Part 4
My library forays in New York over three months provided the background for my initial plotting and book proposal. With the outline complete and broad themes of the novel well in mind, it was essential to have firsthand experience of Portugal and Brazil. I couldn't go back five hundred years, but I could make a sincere and honest attempt to know the land and its people.
I was writing a novel not a history but was committed to offering as authentic and historically accurate account as possible. In April 1981, I headed for Lisbon and three months later began my journey in Brazil.
I based myself outside Lisbon at Sintra, living in a quinta on a hillside below Moorish battlements that overlooked Sintra Palace. I would use this setting for the family seat of the first Cavalcantis to go to Brazil:
Sintra Palace

Through his marriage to Inez Gonçalves, Cavalcanti's father had come to possess lands on those serene vales before the Serra de Sintra. Here between jagged rocks of antiquity crowned with fallen battlement of Moor and the distant azure expanse of the Atlantic, here was past and future, and whether Nicolau climbed through the thick woods to the lee of the old Infidel redoubt or stood on the windy headland at Cabo da Roça, he felt an intimacy with both. - (from Brazil)
Errol Lincoln Uys at Serra de Sintra

 I divided my time between the Gulbenkian Foundation, British Institute and Portuguese historic and geographic libraries and visits to sites like Jeronimos Monastery, Belem Tower, Mafra, and traveling to Coimbra, Belmont and Evora, all of which have a place in my novel. Besides 16th century Portugal, I was also interested in the mid-18th century and events surrounding the Lisbon Earthquake of November 1755, one of my Cavalcantis studying law in Portugal at the time.
Ten seconds later, there was a devastating shock. The houses opposite Paulo began to sway; the floor beneath him vibrated so violently that he struggled to keep his balance. Chimneys crumbled, loose tiles fell to the ground, crockery in Dona Clara's house shattered. Screams and the pitiful cries of animals rose. But Paulo's perception of these noises was dulled by a thundering in the earth. Terremoto! The word crashed through Paulo's senses. “Earthquake!”
Paulo was mesmerized by the houses opposite, rocking on their foundations, walls cracking and splitting, upper stories leaning toward the street, chunks of masonry falling. Terror numbed him. He stood frozen at the window, expecting death.

Three houses suddenly burst open and collapsed, burying the family of four and the servant girls. The old man did not cease his struggle to open his front door, even as the convulsions rocked the street; he, too, was entombed by an avalanche of masonry. Paulo looked beyond the opening opposite him: The city was rising and falling in waves as if upon a storm-tossed sea; landslides swept down the hillsides hurling houses toward the lower ground; distant steeples and towers whipped about wildly; clouds of dirt and dust hung in the air. The thunder of the earth, the sound of breaking timbers, the rain of roof tiles — the inconceivable noises came together in one deafening roar of destruction. - (from Brazil)
Lisbon Earthquake 1755

No comments: