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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Lisbon Syndrome

Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles

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To purchase The Lisbon Syndrome

Title: The Lisbon Syndrome
Author: Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles
Genre: Novel
Written: 2020 (Eng. 2022)
Length: 170 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: The Lisbon Syndrome - US
El síndrome de Lisboa - US
The Lisbon Syndrome - UK
The Lisbon Syndrome - Canada
El síndrome de Lisboa - España
from: Bookshop.org (US)
  • Spanish title: El síndrome de Lisboa
  • Translated by Paul Filev

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Our Assessment:

B : effective dark portrayal of contemporary Venezuela

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
LALT . 8/2020 R.Rivas Rojas
El Universal . 3/8/2020 Linda D'Ambrosio
World Lit. Today . 5-6/2022 E.W.Hood

  From the Reviews:
  • "(S)peculative fiction crosses with elements of the Bildungsroman and the romance novel, resulting in an interesting blend of genres. But more than the representation of a possible future, or even of a parallel present, what this story seems to be offering is an alternative past. Because, beyond the apocalypse storyline, what dominates in this story is the rewriting of the moment in 2017 when young Venezuelans, armed with sticks, rocks, Molotov cocktails, and improvised shields, without any hope of victory, faced the police forces of one of the most repressive states in the world. Sánchez Rugeles imagines in the novel the possibility that these young people could have triumphed against all odds and all political logic." - Raquel Rivas Rojas, Latin American Literature Today

  • "El síndrome de Lisboa es esa sensación de tristeza y desesperanza que sobreviene después de lo ocurrido. ¿Para qué luchar, o soñar, si en cualquier momento un meteorito (u otros eventos posibles) pueden dar al traste con todo? Así mismo, la novela calibra las repercusiones que el entorno ha de surtir en entre los más jóvenes, si sobreviven. ¿Cuál es el horizonte que les aguarda?" - Linda D'Ambrosio, El Universal

  • "Sánchez Rugeles has characterized this novel as his work that is most engaged with the struggle for freedom in Venezuela. Despite its dystopian vision of the present, the novel celebrates, through the words of Moreira, the power of stories to raise our awareness of the value of life in the midst of tragedies" - Edward Waters Hood, World Literature Today

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Lisbon Syndrome begins a year after a cataclysmic disaster, an asteroid-hit that wiped out the Portuguese capital of Lisbon entirely and caused great damage to much of the country. The novel is, however, centered elsewhere, in contemporary Venezuela, so long already tangled in its own creeping destruction that the catastrophe only has limited ripple-effects there.
       Narrator Fernando Morales is a teacher in his mid-forties, living in the Caracas neighborhood of Colinas de Bello Monte, who finds that, despite this catastrophe, he and the world remain much in the same place as before a year on: as shattering as the event was, it did not set off the Apocalypse. But, living in contemporary Venezuela, everything has long been going downhill anyway, with little hope for much of a future. So also for Fernando, who on top of it all, has to face the fact that his marriage is on the verge of complete collapse, his wife Tatiana close to abandoning him; as he puts it, like the country itself: "My personal life was in ruins".
       Fernando teaches at several schools, in a Venezuela that is barely functional any longer; one of the schools he teaches at then simply closes before the end of the school year. He's supportive of his students, but understands that the school system can do little to prepare them for the world they're facing. But he is involved with one other project that seems to be going reasonably well, a sort of community center called the La Sibila Cultural Center (named after the Agustina Bessa-Luís novel, A Sibila) where he has young people put on plays such as Richard III.
       A Portuguese immigrant named Moreira, now already an old man, had provided the funds to start up La Sibila, and over the course of the novel Fernando repeatedly meets up with him and the old man tells him the story of his life and how he and his ailing wife wound up here, a storyline that provides a glimpse of Portuguese history before the catastrophe, from the times of the Salazar dictatorship to the aftereffects of the Carnation Revolution of 1974.
       As the novel progresses, things continue to slowly go from bad to worse in Venezuela. On the one hand, the country -- having already faced so much hardship, thanks to a corrupt and incompetent regime -- was better-equipped to come to terms with the fallout of the destruction of Portugal and the international crises it caused: "We knew how to live among ruins, without it being an inconvenience". Still, the nation also becomes even more cut off from the rest of the world, the government more firmly controlling what news could be broadcast, and limiting access to the internet and the lifeline that was social media. So, for example, at the beginning of the crisis, it was difficult to even get any information about what had actually happened in Portugal.
       Things do not get better, in the country or in his personal life, but Fernando continue to have faith in the younger generation. Putting on plays at La Sibila is his small contribution, but he hopes it makes a difference. (As it turns out, La Sibila is more of a base of sorts for the youths than Fernando is aware of.)
       One of Fernando's students points out:

Our generation suffers from 'Lisbon syndrome,' knowing that the things we love are finite, knowing that there is no tomorrow, knowing that we won't have enough time to do anything worthwhile, that we will disappear without leaving any kind of mark, because we don't matter to anyone, because our existence has no relevance. We have no horizons. We have no dreams, they're forbidden.
       It's a dark picture, and it gets darker. An "unpredictable and anarchic guerilla war" brings arbitrary death and destruction. At one point Fernando reports: "We had all hit rock bottom" -- but, in fact, they would seem still to have a ways to go. And yet, there's is still some sense of a mutually supportive community and, along with the distracting episodes from his past that Moreira relates to Fernando, there is still a lingering hopefulness and sense of some possibility.
       Sánchez Rugeles layers it on thick and relentlessly, down to a burst sewage pipe, so that: "The smell of sewage permeated the whole place". Early on -- at the close of the opening chapter -- Fernando had already lamented that: "All that remains is the unending weariness of our nullified lives and the ebbing flames of the resistance, doomed to be extinguished", and he relates a story long sunk in grim darkness, but throughout and especially in its conclusion Sánchez Rugeles does offer some a sense and hope of the battle at least possibly eventually being won (though without going so far as to offer any promises or certainty). And, along the way, he also ties in Moreira's tale, when it is finally brought to a close, to Fernando's own life, offering the teacher some (personal) answers.
       The Lisbon Syndrome is presented as a symphony of sorts, its seven chapters different musical movements, beginning with an 'Overture: Dies irae' and closing with an: 'Offertory: choir of souls in purgatory'. It is language and the written word, however, that Sánchez Rugeles and his characters find the greatest inspiration in, from the plays put on at La Sibila, to the box of Portuguese books Moreira's brother sends him once a year. Language, and art, certainly are not sufficient, here, to counter the forces that are faced -- natural and political -- but are a foundation. (Including a very basic one: Moreira tells of having long been basically illiterate, for example, but he and his wife finding a hold in works of literature.)
       The Lisbon Syndrome is very dark, but the characters still get on with life, even as they face the worst, making for an underlying sense of hopefulness, a human spirit that still finds its way through, even in the most extreme situations -- but without Sánchez Rugeles forcing it too much. Fernando is more matter-of-fact than self-pitying, which helps, and Moreira's story, carefully dosed out over the novel, and the old man's attitude generally, give the story some balance, too. It makes for an effective portrait of contemporary Venezuela -- offering also a glimmer (if not much more) of hope.

- M.A.Orthofer, 3 July 2022

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The Lisbon Syndrome: Reviews: Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles: Other books by Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Venezuelan author Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles was born in 1977.

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© 2022 the complete review

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