Afonso Cruz, Portugal
About the author:
Born in 1971 in Figueira da Foz, years later he would visit more than 60 countries. In 2008, he published his first novel, The Flesh of God: The Adventures of Conrado Fortes and Lola Benites, and a year later The Encyclopedia of World Story, which won the Camilo Castelo Branco Grand Prize. In 2011, he released The Books Which Devoured My Father (Maria Rosa Colaço Literary Prize) and The Human Contradiction (SPA/RTP Authors Award).
He was awarded the European Union Prize for Literature in 2012 for his novel Kokoschka's Doll. Jesus Christ Drank Beer was considered the Best Portuguese Novel of the Year by TimeOut Lisbon magazine and the Best Novel of 2012 by the readers of the reference newspaper Público.
In 2013, he published the novel Where Do Umbrellas End Up (winner of the Portuguese Society for Authors Award). Flowers, published in 2015, won the literary prize Fernando Namora and was praised by critics, with rights being immediately sold to various countries.
As an illustrator, he won the 2014 Portuguese National Illustration Award for Capital. As well as writing and illustrating, he is a director of animated films and member of a band called The Soaked Lamb.
In 2016, he published the novel Not All Whales Fly and, in 2017, his most ambitious outing, a non-fiction book, Jalan Jalan: A Reading of the World. In 2018, he published his latest novel, The Karenina Principle, and a book for children, How to Cook a Child.
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- Spanish: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela (Panamericana)
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A Boneca de Kokoschka (The Kokoschka's Doll)
Kokoschka's Doll acts as a symbol and metaphor for a story of friendship, a story of how the Other is fundamental for our own identity. The characters include Isaac Dresner, a Jew who developed a limp in his left foot, after he was burdened with the memory of his best friend being killed in front of him during World War II. The reader is also introduced to Bonifaz Vogel, a man with a suspended conscience, Tsilia Kacev, an Orthodox Jew who gets stigmata, and a millionaire, Zsigmond Varga, who wants to weigh the human soul, measuring evil and sin with a hydraulic scale. Music is a constant in this story, which also includes defeated poets, a man who is too kind, Kokoschka's doll itself, and a guitar player who classifies people under chords: bearded philosophers, for example, are diminished seventh.
Translated by Nuno Quintas
My grandparents from my father’s side
The day is half death, half life, as can be grasped by the quantity of light and darkness that make it
That day, when death blends with life, was when my grandmother from my father’s side died, on Pentecost, during the preparation of a great lunch. My grandmother didn’t cook because she was pregnant, she could deliver at any moment.
A heavy oak table had been set in front of my grandfather’s house (he was a gravedigger). The great oak-tree at the entrance would cast its shadow without asking—as men do—anything in return. The blend of life and death could be clearly seen, the table being a dead oak, the oak’s shadow giving life.
Most guests didn’t show up, they didn’t want to share a table with the gravedigger (he was my grandfather from my father’s side), blending life and death, blending mouths burying corpses with mouths celebrating life: those who made a living out of farming and from toiling the land. However, deep down, a gravedigger and a farmer aren’t that different. Both place their hope on the land, some cast the seed, others the corpse, but both hope someday, from whatever is buried, life will burgeon.
My grandmother’s name was Marija and she was from Breslov—just like the rabbi Nachman. Funnily enough, her job was the opposite of my grandfather’s: she was a midwife. The two of them formed a circumference, a ring where the entire human drama is enclosed. That afternoon, from her belly, my grandfather brought his son to the world. A son born from my dead grandmother, in a movement contrary to the one my grandfather was used to accomplish: instead of burying the corpse in the grave, he took life from it, he unburied a child. He took from the land to seed in the air. That’s how my father, David Dresner, was brought to the world.
Rave Media Reviews:
"What truly distinguishes Cruz, apart from using quotations clearly invented by him in the middle of well-referenced ones, is how he can combine a philosophical thinking with a surprising writing, rich with imagery." - Ana Dias Ferreira, TimeOut
"Kokoschka's Doll is some sort of a game-book, highly recommended for its imaginative, playful character, though it tells many stories of sad love." - Pedro Mexia, Público
Jalan Jalan: A Reading of the World
The world, they say, is a book. And a book can also contain within itself the world. Using his many travels as a starting point, Afonso Cruz presents to us in this book his reading of the world, a stroll that takes us to places as diverse as geography, art, science, philosophy and literature. Sharing his experiences with the reader, he suggests we take identical paths, claiming that, to wander like he did, we only need to “step a little bit to the side or use our imagination”. The result could be, if we accept this invitation, a new vision of the world.
“Despite the beauty of the landscape, of the rice fields, of the omnipresent green, of the Hindu temples, of the angry monkeys, one of the best things I brought back from Bali was an offering from João, who wrapped and gave me a word, maybe two: Jalan means street in Indonesian, he told me. It also means walking. Jalan jalan, the repetition of the word, that in many cases makes up the plural, means, in this case, to wander. To wander is to walk twice. (…)
Wandering is what we do so as not to reach a destination, it isn’t measured in terms of distance nor by the technique of placing one foot in front of the other, but by the way we were moved by the landscape or touched by the flight of a bird. It’s a little bit like art, it has the immense worth of something that is worthless. It may not have a reason, a destination, a purpose, a use, and that’s precisely where we find the richness of wandering. There are no wandering professionals. Chesterton, who was a great supporter of amateurism, said that the best things in life, as the most important ones, aren’t professionalized. Love, when professionalized, becomes prostitution.”
Jesus Christ Drank Beer
A small village in the South of Portugal becomes Jerusalem thanks to one girl’s love for her grandmother, whose final wish is to see the Holy Land.
A master parallel to himself, an English woman who sleeps inside a whale, a girl who reads westerns and believes her mother has been replaced by the Virgin Mary — these are some of the characters making up this heartbreaking, ironic tale about the ability to change people as well as life’s fundamental principles: love, sacrifice, and beer.
“Afonso Cruz is one of the strongest voices in contemporary Portuguese literature.” | Antonio Sáez Delgado, El País.
“This is much more than just a recommended reading: this is one of the books of the literary season, full of genius, imagination and literature.” |Quimera literary magazine.
“Borges, the Argentinian writer, always comes to the fore when Afonso Cruz is mentioned . . . His clean (and cultivated) prose can do without being compared to him.” | Eduardo Pitta
“Afonso Cruz amuses and touches us with irony, offering a comedy on the most important things in life: love, sacrifice and… beer.” | Stefania Parmeggiani, La Reppublica.
Let’s Buy a Poet
In an imaginary society, materialism controls each and every aspect of its inhabitants’ lives. Instead of a name, each individual has a number, each meal is weighed, each affections counted up to the gram. And, instead of pets, families have poets. The story’s main character wants to have a poet, they’re not expensive nor messy — sculptors and painters, for instance, are somewhat less clean… — but this girl’s life will never be the same again. A story about the place of Poetry, Creativity and Culture in our lives, which celebrates the beauty of ideas and selfless actions.
Not All Whales Fly
In the midst of the Cold War, the CIA has planned an operation called the Jazz Ambassadors to bring the Eastern youth to the American cause. It’s in this setting that we meet Erik Gould, flawless pianist, passionate, capable of picturing sounds and paint portraits in his piano’s keyboard. Music is so embedded in his body much like the love for the only woman in his life, who has vanished from night to day. Tristan, their son, tired of looking for his mother among the pages of an atlas, will one day find in a shoebox the path that will lead him to happiness.
A man is deeply troubled by the news he reads in the papers and all the human tragedy he witnesses. One day, he’s struck by the fact that he can’t remember his first kiss, playing football in his village, seeing a naked woman.
Another man, his neighbour, finds it easy to cope with the horrors of the world, but loses his temper when he finds a hat misplaced. However, maybe because he remembers the magic of his first kiss—and he’s aware of how much his life has veered away from it—he sets out to help his neighbour recover all of his lost memories.
An unsettling story about memory and what’s left of us when it’s lost, a moving novel about love and what it needs to be in order to be worthy of that name.
The Children’s Crusade
What will grown-ups do if thousands of children take to the streets and demand the fulfilment of the dreams they’ve forgotten to keep dreaming, calling for the same kind of justice they’ve long ceased to believe in? Will we continue to ignore those crusaders with the same cynicism, disbelief, or passivity that so often tint our view of the world around us? Or has the time come for us to listen to the dreams of children?
“Afonso Cruz takes us on a journey to the world of children and reminds us that they, too, have dreams – sometimes the same dreams as many adults –, and that there are moments in life when we need to speak out in order to achieve what we desire. A book that teaches children to always strive to reach their goals and to never give up.” | Sofia Pereira, Revista Fábulas.
Where Do Umbrellas End Up
This novel is set against the backdrop of a fabled Orient, based on what we think about its past and what we believe to be its present, with all that makes it magical, different, and wicked.
It’s the tale of a man who wants to be invisible, a child who’d like to fly like an airplane, a woman who hopes to marry a blue-eyed man, a profoundly mute poet, a Russian general who’s a bit of a gamecock, a woman whose hair flies out of a cage, a lovelorn Indian, and a boy who holds the entire universe inside his mouth.
A magnificent novel that begins with an illustrated story for children who no longer believe in Santa, before unfolding as a sublime tapestry of lives woven with the threads and colours of things we find, lose, and yearn to recover.
Like This, But Not Really Like This
A brilliant gathering of situations and everyday characters with a particular note of reflection on current events, the Crisis, in a sensible and accessible way particularly aimed at children.
The Year Book
A diary combining illustration with notes for each day of the year.
Written and illustrated by Afonso Cruz himself, in it we witness time and the world through the unexpected eyes of a child.
These are pages written by a little girl who carries a garden in her head, throws words to pigeons and knows how long a shadow takes to become ripe. These are pages made out of memories, to readers of all ages.
A boy is given a piggy bank, with a slot on its back to be fed with capital. The boy showers it with love and tenderness, and the piggy bank soon becomes obese, filled with amazing profits, whilst his greediness becomes hard to control. As years go by, the piggy bank keeps growing, and growing, and growing, until one day…
The Painter Under the Sink
Freedom often survives in very tight spaces, such as a photographer’s sink. Based on a real-life episode, this is the story of a Slovak painter born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 19th century—a painter who emigrated to the United States and came back to Bratislava, only to hide under a sink in order to escape from Nazism.
“[Afonso Cruz] is in the top best Portuguese writers today . . . I want everyone to read it and understand that we are already reading the books of the future, we are already before one of the greatest books the future will easily make obvious in everyone’s libraries.” | Valter Hugo Mãe.
“ . . . a very inventive and well-written novel—worthy of the outstanding successor Kokoschka’s Doll (Quetzal, 2010) . . . In the evident mockery with which he works the language, it’s noticeable, especially in this author, the conviction of who truly believes in the great, almost magical, power of literature […].” | José Mário Silva, LER.
“The aphorisms, softened by the prose, come naturally, and when combined with a cutting yet constant narrative, always turn into fluent writing, serving a rich and imaginative story.” | Emanuel Madalena, Público.
“In this book Afonso Cruz puts together a series of reflections on human nature and art, using a rich, poetical tissue of an exquisite beauty.» | Mapa de lecturas.
The Human Contradiction
This time, Afonso Cruz brings us the observations of a child who pays lots of attention to the world and its contradictions and opposites, combining irony and sagacity with a narrative talent — and a serious knack for illustration.
The Books Which Devoured My Father
Vivaldo Bonfim is a bored clerk who often takes novels and novellas to the IRS office he is employed at.
One day, while pretending to be hard at work, he gets lost in his reading and disappears from this world. This is his true story — as told by his son, Elias Bonfim, who sets out in search of him, traveling through classic works of literature brimming with murderers, overwhelming passions, wild beasts and other perils made of letters.
"Maybe we shouldn’t rush and compare Cruz with Exupéry, especially because you don’t find in Elias Bonfim, the main character, the Little Prince’s ingenuity. But the fact is that this amazingly short and amazingly inventive novel, by opening up avenues which shake us to the core, reminds us, in a simple and immediate way, the reason literature and reading exist in the first place." | Blic, weekly newspaper (Serbia)
The Encyclopedia of World Story
This is a book made of facts — fictions, cons, and quotes as well — long forgotten or ignored by History, which intertwine to shape a maze.
A place where butlers, coronels, metaphors, lies, murderers, two-faced gods, amazing kabbalists, ascetic Hindu monks and absolutely oriental narratives meet.
"This (all-too-short) collection of pithy vignettes, ironic aphorisms and quotes from “books that rarely exist” by writer, illustrator and musician Afonso Cruz is one of the best Portuguese-language books to have been released in 2009, a twisting maze of golems, giants, heretics, kabbalists, humble nabobs and the nature of opposites, determinism and DNA. While not exactly an original concept, Afonso Cruz braves this labyrinth without flinching in the shadow of his main influences, Jorge Luis Borges and Milorad Pavic, and I was happy to follow the trail of breadcrumbs he leaves behind." | Locus Magazine
Kokoschka's Doll: 2012 European Union Prize for Literature
Jesus Christ Drank Beer: Best Portuguesa Novel of the Year by Time Out Lisboa; Best Novel of 2012 by the readers of the newspaper Público
Where Do Umbrellas End Up: 2014 Portuguese Society for Authors Award
The Books Which Devoured My Father: Maria Rosa Colaço Literary Prize
Flowers: 2016 Fernando Namora Literary Prize
Not All Whales Fly: Shortlisted for Book of the Year by Bertrand Readers 2016. Shortlisted for the Oceanos Award.