Saudades is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.* This was the feeling I got when I read Anthony De Sa’s book called Barnacle Love.
Anthony De Sa is a Canadian author who writes about the Portuguese experience as told to him by his Iberian entourage who survived the immigrant experience from the Azores. His book Barnacle Love is a great expenditure in world literature and one to be proud as Portuguese of any decent, no matter how diluted your roots are from the source of your ancestry. It is a testament to our origins.
It is apropos to call the book Barnacle Love. Barnacles are some of the oldest living organisms in the ocean with thick shells and are vulnerable inside. They attach themselves to hard surfaces and don’t budge from there. The Portuguese spirit is the same. When they are transfixed on an idea, they stay glued from the constant beating barrage of waves that come from the ocean. Be it faith or tradition they will not move. They don’t want to let go. The ocean being the world of ideas tries to pull them to the sea. With no avail they stay true to their convictions. Fixed they are and they shall remain.
Books are vessels for your brain to traverse from one place to another. Your destination can be a place of gratification or just plain exhaustion from frustration. Barnacle Love is unique because it speaks of the Azorean culture within Canada. There are not too many books on the spirit of the Azores. Anthony De Sa is a brilliant writer of ideas. His book is short of being called a novella. It is many stories combined to make one whole story. The book can be daunting at times with some fragmented meshing of these little tales like a tapestry that is interwoven into a bigger picture. It’s as though there were many ideas for books within one book and stripped down to make a whole cohesive story.
I admire Barnacle Love for the visual poetic images the book is framed from. It is a very important book for the Azorean individual and should be read. The immigrant theme is what binds the book together. Barnacle Love is about identity. Lost identity and trying to find it in both the old world and the new one. The problem with immigrants is that they should realize that there is not a new or old world.
Sandbox World – Barnacle Love like your character Manuel just washed up on my laps by accident and seems to grow with me each day. To me books are like voices as in Ray Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451. We become like our favorite books. Who did you write this book for? What goal did you want to accomplish?
Anthony De Sa- Barnacle Love was written for me. I’ve always found that if a writer writes for anyone else other than themselves then the work itself doesn’t ring true. If a writer brings an honesty to his/her work then the writing becomes real and true.
SW- Barnacle Love is a unique anomaly in the Canadian literature scene. There are not too many Portuguese writers making a great impact in the world of words besides Nobel Prize winner Jose Saramago and Brazilian inspirational Paulo Coelho. Can you tell us a little about your background and aspirations as a writer, but mostly as a Portuguese Canadian writer in the global village of ideas?
ADS- I’m not a Portuguese writer. I don’t even subscribe to the notion that I’m a Portuguese-Canadian. I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada and see myself, first and foremost, as a proud Canadian. I do not deny my Portuguese heritage; it is a culture I feel an affinity for because it is my heritage and the world through which my parents and their values were formed.
SW- When writers plan to write a book there is certain muse that dances around your ear. How did the book come to be and what led you on this path. Who was your main muse for Barnacle Love?
ADS- The brutal murder of Emanuel Jaques – the shoeshine boy – was certainly at the heart of the issues that became BARNACLE LOVE. This event that changed the Portuguese community, and other communities also, was the kernel or germ that spawned the other stories.
SW- In your opinion has the Azorean immigrant had a harder time to assimilate in the Canadian landscape?
ADS- Things are certainly much better now but during those early years, the sixties and seventies, things were very difficult and assimilation into this country wasn’t as easy as many had thought it would be.
SW- The strain of mixed marriages is a struggle for many couples who find it hard to mix language and faith. At the end of the day most have to compromise and lose a little of themselves in the upbringing of their kids. Was your family receptive in you marrying what some consider an outsider in that milieu?
ADS- My parents never imposed their ideas of whom I chose to marry on me. They were very open to the idea and made it very clear that whomever I chose was the one I needed to live with and form a future with.
SW- It has been more than 50 years since Portuguese from the Azores have lived in Canada. Do you feel their offspring have turned away from their culture? The wave of immigrants that came here for a better living from an impoverished country at war with Angola has since subdued. The war between Portugal and Angola depleted their youth to unspeakable butchery on both sides. Portugal seemed to be losing its identity with the alienation of former colonies and Azores. Antonio de Oliveira Salazar the former dictator cannibalized the Utopian fruits of prosperity and fed Azorean children to the war-machine of colonial conflict. Given this history, Portugal has always had the stigma of being the most backwards of the European countries. Portugal the mainland has always frowned down on the Azores. This sentiment carried fourth into North America. It seems there are still divisible prejudice between both. Do these stereotypes still exist in your mind today or have we made amends?
ADS- I’d like to think those divisions have, at the very least, diminished. It would be naive to assume they have disappeared completely. It still exists today although there is an increased tolerance between the two groups. Stay tuned to my next novel, CARNIVAL OF DESIRE, where those very tensions between the Azoreans and those from the Continent are explored.
SW- The murder Emanuel Jaques played a significant role on the Portuguese landscape in both Toronto and Montreal and in your book. The innocence of youth was decimated by a vile pedophile murder. This sad denouement of the Portuguese immigrant experience must have affected you greatly. I certainly remember the uproar of parents here in Montreal and they used the brutal savagery as a bogeyman to scare the wits out of the Portuguese youth who exposed themselves daily to some form of abduction in this city. It seems this event still has open wounds with those who lived through the ordeal. What made you want to explore this tragic incident in the annals of this Azorean tragedy that caused protests abating the fiery sidewalks that were laced in debauchery on Yonge Street in 1977. Why expand it for your new novel for 2011? It seems people just wanted to brush this story under the mind’s carpet and just forget about it.
ADS- Any time a tragic event happens to a community the impulse is to “sweep it under the carpet.” So much has been left unsaid about that brutal murder, simply because some things are best left alone. A writer’s role is to go deeper and explore the worlds others feel too tender to touch on. I’ve always found that if an issue is honest and real then the dialogue that ensues can only enlighten the people involved in the debate. It is my hope.
SW- The church plays a very important role in the character of any Portuguese individual. That ideal seems to be taking a side step as of late. In Barnacle Love, religion plays more of a diminished role in a world of conflicting ideas. The harsh criticism is not only unique to this community but also others trying to fit into the fabric of Canada. The Roman Catholic church’s reluctant refusal to enter the 21st century changes seems to be driving worshipers away. Do you see any hope for this dying institution?
ADS- There is still a place for belief and hope. For some that is religion. For others it is to become one with their surroundings.
SW- Music and especially Fado seems to play a big role in your book. How relevant is Fado today? What role did music play in your life? Spencer Tracy’s portrayal of Manuel Fidello in Captains Courageous which is based on the 1897 book by Rudyard Kipling now looking back is amusing with his interpretation of a Portuguese sailor. What books or films helped you shape your characters?
ADS- Fado is enjoying a revival of sorts with young singers like Mariza inspiring a renewed interest in the words and the passion behind those words. I think it’s growing, in fact. As for books . . . there was nothing that I have read about the experience of Portuguese in Canada that inspired me to write BARNACLE LOVE. It was simply a story that needed to be told.
SW- How do you see your children caring the proverbial Portuguese heritage?
ADS- Through food and music and travel. The language is there if they so choose to learn it but it is not necessary, there is a universal language of love and respect that far outweighs the rigors of learning a new language.
SW- Has the Portuguese landscape in Toronto changed a lot since your youth? What good has come out of the mosaic of different cultures meshing into each other?
ADS- We still have pockets or remnants of Little Portugal in Toronto. The community has now grown and dispersed throughout southern Ontario and across this country. That kind of mobility has created new opportunities for the community and I can only think this is a positive thing.
SW- Besides Portuguese readers of Barnacle Love, are there other ethnicities who can relate to your book?
ADS- I have been warmed and touched by so many cultures that have been touched by BARNACLE LOVE: Asian, Mediterranean, Dutch, German and even Caribbean. The immigrant experience is truly a universal one.
SW- Since 1953 the Azorean population has grown across Canada and only recently they are making noise in the popular media with the likes of Nelly Furtado and yourself. Books like yours will show the way to a neglected or by choice of a secluded Portuguese society. The newer generation seem less in touch with their roots and stray away from traditional customs. What are your hopes for the future in what seems to be the diluting cultural traditions held sacred to this close knit society? Why did it take us that long to express ourselves to others?
ADS- Those who have expressed themselves through mainstream media have done so without the insular support of cultural groups, which often times suffocates the art or tries to make it something that is more representative of their own ideas.
SW- Did you see yourself as a novelist at the age of 40? What encouraging words do you have for want to be writers?
ADS- Write every day. Write honestly. Be true to the emotion behind the words. Don’t let fear hold you back.
SW- You seem to draw from a vast pool of youthful imagery unique to Azorean/Canadian 40 year old. The Casey bowl cut reference from Mr. Dressup has a rich image in my mind. Clearly this Canadian visual resonates in many who watched this show and only a Canuck would know what you
were talking about. Do you feel that you might have alienated some with pop culture references from both the Azores and Canada might have some people scratching their heads?
ADS- I don’t write for anyone but myself. If that were completely true then the book would not have been sold to Dom Quixote in Portugal or to Algonquin in the USA.
SW- Your words flow like lyrical prose in Barnacle Love. There seems to be a rich abundance of poetry influenced imagery that paints a canvas of delightful scenes that remind me of Fernando Pessoa. Has he had any influence in your work? Any favorite poets?
ADS- Fernando Pessoa is a brilliant poet but I’m not well versed. My work is influenced by the forces that shaped me and those event and people that continue to play a major role in my life.
SW- How much is Barnacle Love about you?
ADS- All of it! In some way, shape or form it is about all of me – an amalgamation of my family, my friends my teachers. All of these characters and events have been formed then manipulated so that by the end they aren’t even recognizable to the people the aspire to represent.
I like working with that kind of magic.