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
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.
Sandbox World– 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?
Anthony De Sa– 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.
Sandbox World– 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
Anthony De Sa– 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
Sandbox World– In your opinion has the Azorean immigrant had a harder time to assimilate in the Canadian landscape?
Anthony De Sa– 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.
Sandbox World– 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?
Anthony De Sa– 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.
Sandbox World– 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?
Anthony De Sa– 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,
Kicking the Sky, where those very tensions between the Azoreans and those from the Continent are explored.
Sandbox World– 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.
Anthony De Sa– 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.
Sandbox World– 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?
Anthony De Sa– There is still a place for belief and hope. For some that is religion. For others it is to become one with their surroundings.
Sandbox World– 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?
Anthony De Sa– 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.
Sandbox World– How do you see your children caring the proverbial Portuguese heritage?
Anthony De Sa– 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.
Sandbox World– 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?
Anthony De Sa– 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.
Sandbox World– Besides Portuguese readers of Barnacle Love, are there other ethnicities who can relate to your book?
Anthony De Sa– 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.
Sandbox World– 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?
Anthony De Sa– 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.
Sandbox World– Did you see yourself as a novelist at the age of 40? What encouraging words do you have for want to be writers?
Anthony De Sa– Write every day. Write honestly. Be true to the emotion behind the words. Don’t let fear hold you back.
Sandbox World– 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?
Anthony De Sa– 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.
Sandbox World– 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
Anthony De Sa– 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
Sandbox World– How much is Barnacle Love about you?
Anthony De Sa– 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.