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Equator Hardcover – 7 Jul 2008

4.6 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC; First Edition First Printing edition (7 July 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747581746
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747581741
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.2 x 4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 337,107 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

`Equator is filled with pleasurable digressions and set pieces ... impressive and gratifying' -- Toby Lichtig, Times Literary Supplement

About the Author

Miguel Sousa Tavares was born in Oporto. He gave up a career in law to pursue journalism, after which he moved to more literary writing. He is the author of several books of non-fiction. Equator is his first novel, the product of a long period of maturation and historical research inspired by a complex chapter in Portuguese history.


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Format: Hardcover
Equator begins in Portugal in 1905. King Dom Carlos is worried about British reports that slavery still exists on São Tomé and Príncipe and summons Luís Bernardo Valença, an intellectual who writes papers on the civilising effect Portugal has on it's colonies, to his court. The King sends Luís Bernardo Valença to assess the situation, forcing him to leave his shipping business and live on the remote island near the equator for three years.

Luís Bernardo Valença arrives on São Tomé and Príncipe to discover that the cocoa plantation owners have shipped people from Angola and employed them on a fixed term contract, meaning that they are not free to leave at the present time. This means that it is almost impossible to decide whether slavery exists or not.

Equator is a beautifully written piece of historical fiction, which brings up a complex discussion as to what constitutes slavery. I loved the brief glimpse of Portuguese court, and learning about it's colonies. This book has inspired me to read more about the history of Portugal, as I know very little about it.

I got slightly bored in the middle of the book when the British Consul arrived, and the book went into a bit too much political discussion for my taste, but the plot picked up again towards the end.

Overall, I found it to be a very interesting look at a period of history that I knew nothing about. Recommended to anyone who loves historical fiction.
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Format: Paperback
Started this unsure exactly where Sao Tome is - feel I've learned an awful lot and been greatly entertained on the way.

Well-written narrative, opening in 1905, when Luis Bernardo is asked to go leave his luxurious life to sort out problems in this godforsaken spot - the plantation owners here determinedly run their businesses using slaves from nearby Angola. Meanwhile the British, led by William Cadbury, are threatening to boycott their chocolate if things don't change fast. Luis Bernardo has the impossible task of persuading the islanders to sacrifice their plentiful labor force for more humane conditions. And meanwhile the new British consul, and his wife, have arrived to make their own report on conditions...

The one failing of this novel is the romance and the graphic sex scenes which are extremely poorly written, and seem out of place with the writing style elsewhere. It's like slipping into Mills and Boone every so often!
I'd probably give it 3.5
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Format: Paperback
Miguel Sousa Tavares has written a highly credible novel about a murky place and period in Portuguese colonial history. Yes, slaves were used in the coffee and cocoa plantations of these islands, and Portugal had the unenviable choice of dissembling, of pretending that slavery did not exist. Or the principled Quaker chocolate manufacturers in Britain would cease their purchase of São Tomé cocoa and buy instead from British West India producers. Hypocritical Britain may or may not have been using slaves in the West Indies, but they were certainly using slaves (or more properly indentured labourers) in the gold mines of South Africa. This indentured labour system became a hot political potato dominating the General election of 1906. And yes, the Quakers followed the lead of Cadbury and did withdraw their custom after he had established that Portuguese plantation owners were using slaves. And yes, the plantation owners of São Tomé did continue with their questionable labour practices right up to 1974, when the Carnation Revolution caused Portugal to withdraw from its African territories. Tavares builds the tension between the idealist Valença and the powerful plantation owners; he also shows how strong was the colour bar in Portuguese Africa; and his description of São Tomé is wonderful. For anyone with any interest in Portugal's former African territories, this book adds knowledge and atmosphere and is a delight to read. For just how rich the plantation owners became from their use of slave labour, you might examine the Pestana Palace Hotel in Lisbon, which was built between 1904 - 1915 for the Marquês de Vila Flôr, the owner of the Vila Flôr plantation in São Tomé. The Marquês is also mentioned in the novel. On page one of this book there is a quite inexplicable remark about the Suez Canal (finished in 1869). Should this remark refer to the Panama Canal (which at that time was being bought by the Americans)? Any views, anyone?
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I'll be honest - I would never have chosen this if it hadn't been on my Book Club's reading list. The words 'historical novel' in any description tend to be the last I read in that book. Add to that 'translated from the original' and I'm in the next aisle in the book shop!

But I 'had' to read Equator and am so glad I did - it became one of my all time favourite books.

Don't get me wrong - it's not that I am not interested in history - but I do find the phrase 'historical novel' generally means either a turgid tome that would challenge the most intellectual and patient reader or a flibberty gibberty romance of the costume drama series type...neither of which are quite me.

So if you've rejected Equator for any of these reasons please give it a go.

It is full of good characters who stay with you, funny & sad (ie lifelike, albeit in a different era), very interesting - both historically and geographically - well written (and translated) and most importantly for me, DIFFERENT. (Aren't you just fed up with the 'best-selling' books that are just rewrites by some famous name of the 10 he has already written?)

I do live in Portugal and that was one of the reasons it was on our book club list, but that made no difference at all to the enjoyment of the book. Yes I can pronounce São Tomé e Principe with a proper Portuguese accent, but all you need to get you into the book is to want to know..'where?'.
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