António Lobo Antunes’ Splendor of Portugal is a splendid novel dealing with the ugliness of the Portuguese colonial enterprise in Angola. This is the story of a family of settler colonialists that used to own a slave plantation in Angola but has fallen from their former glory in the wake of the Angolan War of Independence.
The matriarch, left in Angola, lives in destitution with the one hope that her children will come back for her. Her children, now adults living wasted lives in Portugal, have all but shed any semblance of humanity, tormented by nightmarish details of their former life in Angola.
A searing and anguished look into this real ‘heart of darkness’ (as opposed to Joseph Conrad’s Orientalist imagining of Africa), Splendor of Portugal is an indictment of imperialism and how it super-exploits the people of the peripheries to sustain prosperity of the mother country.
It graphically portrays the way a political and economic order and the dominant social relations it creates dehumanizes the ruled as it makes monsters of the rulers. It is an awe-inspiring portrait of oppression and exploitation at all levels through the eyes of the now disgraced former masters.
Told through streams of consciousness and fragments of memories that poetically jumps back and forth through time, the novel’s form mirrors the falling apart of their personal lives, their once wealthy family, along with the colonial society they were accustomed to.
At once dark, ironic, and poetic, the novel gives much-needed insights into the extremely class conscious and racialized psychology of the brutal and hedonistic colonial elites. Splendor of Portugal is a must-read.