Before he became a novelist, António Lobo Antunes was traumatized by his nightmarish experiences in the Portuguese Colonial war of the 1960s and ’70s. Serving as an army psychiatrist in Angola and other “lands at the end of the world,” Antunes—and many of his narrators—witnessed horrors as the Portuguese government tried to violently quell nationalist movements in their African colonies. If the treatment of the locals, the pointlessness of the war, and the living conditions of the soldiers weren’t wretched enough, troops returning to Portugal were faced with new social conditions, and were generally despised and alienated.
All of these wrongs fuel Antunes’s literary work, in particular The Land at the End of the World (Os Cus de Judas, 1979), his first and most autobiographical novel (here translated by Margaret Jull Costa). By seizing on his rage and transforming it into blisteringly energetic—and darkly comic—prose, Antunes places himself in the tradition of other “authors of complaint” such as Thomas Bernhard and Louis-Ferdinand Céline. Ranting against the stupidity of society, against war, against fame, ignorance, the inequalities of life, etc., these authors craft screeds that bluntly expose and critique society, charming readers with the direct way they speak truth to power and a sort of manic humor . . .