Gonçalo M. Tavares 2005
Translated from Portuguese by Anna Kushner

The cover art for Jerusalem promotes a small excerpt from a review from none other than Jose Saramago that states, “Taveres has no right to be writing so well at the age of 35. One feels like punching him!” So, with such a bold proclamation from an author I have high respect for, I had high expectations for this book and was quite excited to dive into Taveres’s world.

Tavares does write extremely well, capable of blending multiple perspectives, multiple time points, and multiple events into a culmination of a single evening that both redemptively and tragically binds the lives of several unlikely characters.  From the opening passage I was drawn into the provocative prowess of Taveres’ fictional explorations and was expectant towards where this would take me:

“Ernst Spengler was alone in his attic apartment, getting ready to throw himself out the already-open window, when the telephone rang.  Once, twice, three times, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen.  Ernst answered.” (7)

That provocative opening does lead down some winding and surprising paths, and Jerusalem was an enjoyable, albeit brief read, however upon finishing it I felt somewhat lacking.  I wanted more from this book and I know exactly why it didn’t work so well for me.  Tavares is definitely a thinking man’s writer, capable of exploring dark and meaningful subject matter, as evidenced by the following passage:

“The truly healthy man necessarily spends most of his life trying, like a child, to find what he feels he’s missing … because he lives with a constant feeling of loss, and this sensation is easily mistaken for the feeling of having been robbed, the feeling that someone has stolen something very important from you, a part of your own self – a part that, for the sake of argument, “we’ll agree to call spiritual.”” (54)

Such thoughts are truly profound and demonstrate the depth of Taveres’ fictional narrative.  However, I feel that in Jerusalem the effectiveness of Tavares’ philosophical pondering misses the mark because the book is too focused on the thoughts and actions of the sick man and not the healthy man and therefore the applicability of the novel’s themes lacks the necessary universality of a timeless masterful work.  The reason for this is that Jerusalem’s characters are extreme caricatures and not one of them mirrors the common modern man.  The characters include a doctor who is the heir of a powerful politician who marries and later divorces a schizophrenic patient of his, said schizophrenic woman who is dying as a result of botched hysterectomy, her lover from the insane asylum, their child who is a crippled boy being raised by his non-biological father, the doctor, a hooker and her deranged semi-pimp who is former military man hungry for blood.  These characters are all extreme cases that live on the outer edge of reality and the novel invests a lot of time exploring the thoughts and activities of the insane and the brutal.

This all adds up to a macabre and tragic work of fiction that comes together artistically in the end.  But as I have insinuated above, the artistic weaving fails to impact this reader’s interests towards the applicability of a greater meaning.  I’d like to explore more of Taveres as his work continues to be translated to English, to see what else he can do, but for now my hunger has been satisfied.


About hardlyregistered

The meandering observations of a 30 something guy.
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4 Responses to Jerusalem

  1. Bruno says:

    Just a couple of thoughts: Jerusalém is part part of a tetralogy, and although each book stands on its own, they do weave together a literary universe that perhaps could leave you lacking less. Also, in the series is called both ‘The Kingdom’ and/or ‘The Black Books’ because they, in my opinion, which I share with many, attempts to tackle the ‘post-modern’ man, the fragmentation, the identity and existential crisis, etc… But, I agree, it’s a very distant and cold perspective that makes it difficult to empathize, which is actually very curious, seeing that we are those same ‘post-modern men’, right?

    Good post!

  2. hardlyregistered says:

    Thanks for the comment. What are the other three books included in the tetralogy? I’m willing to give it a try, perhaps not immediately because I have other books on my list to read, but I’d definitely like to get to know Tavares more.

  3. Bruno says:

    In order of publication:

    – A Man, Klaus Klump (not really sure if this is the english title, originally, ‘Um homem Klaus Klump’
    – Joseph Walser’s Machine (
    – Jerusalem
    – Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique (

  4. hardlyregistered says:

    Thanks, I’ll look out for them.

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