On the 25th of April, 1974, thousands of Portuguese people took to the streets to put an end to a repressive regime. With carnation flowers in their hands, they carried a symbol of peace and solidarity, a desire to create a change that was long overdue. Through the streets of Lisbon and other cities in Portugal, people decorated rifles with petals and stems, walked hand in hand to say, No more. A revolution that became a landmark not only in the history of Portugal, but in the rest of Europe.
To share his insights about the Carnation Revolution and other milestones in the rich history of Portugal, novelist and historian Manuel do Nascimento gave a talk at La Petite Portugaise bookshop, in Ixelles, on Sunday, June 3rd.
“I left Portugal for France in 1970,” he said. “The 1960’s were years of colonial wars in Africa and I just didn’t agree with the rationale behind those wars. I had to leave.”
Born in Sendim, a town in the northern municipality of Miranda do Douro, Mr. do Nascimento studied photography in Portugal before leaving for Paris. Despite not speaking French, he found a job at a workshop linked to the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris where he had to store newspapers and journals into microfilms. From the very beginning, he noticed many people around him didn’t know much about Portugal. “Portugal is in Spain, isn’t it? That’s what many people in France used to tell me. And that’s one of the reasons why I decided to write my first book.”
Chronologie de l’histoire du Portugal/Cronologia da história du Portugal was published in a bilingual edition in 2002 to great success. “The numbers from 2017 show that over 50,000 copies have been sold. Mainly to libraries and schools, educational institutions where these details about Portuguese history need to be taught to younger generations.” The book’s appeal is in part the clarity of language, the importance given to individuals with all of the specificity needed to make them human.
“He makes Portuguese history accessible to everyone,” said Susana Pratt, president of La Petite Portugaise ASBL. “He talks about the lives of soldiers, the people you meet in the street. He explores the mistakes that these characters, and by consequence any of us, could make.”
Mr. do Nascimento’s historical books have spanned from the origins of Portugal (D. Afonso Henriques, Assim Nasceu Portugal) to the Napoleonic invasion in 1810, the heroic fight of Portuguese soldiers at the Battle of the Lys in WWI, the struggle against the government of Salazar, among many others. The history of Portuguese people settled in France has taken a special place in his research. “It is important for me to see the nuances between immigration, and two countries entering a labor agreement. In 1916 France and Portugal signed an agreement to have Portuguese workers come to work in France, and many people do not know these things. They use the word immigration to talk about two things that are not exactly the same.”
In 2017, his first novel, Nem Tudo Acontece Por Acaso, was published by Colibri, and it is at the same time, a love letter to the city of Lisbon, and a literary exploration of what happened to many Portuguese soldiers during WWI. “After many years of living in France, I went to Lisbon with my wife and son, and by chance I found myself talking to a homeless man in the streets,” said Mr. do Nascimento. “He told us about his father, who had fought in the First World War. And that’s how this book was born. The plot, I mean, because the descriptions, many of the different places in Lisbon I describe in the book, I did it with the eye of a photographer. It’s also a book for travelers.”