Alentejo Blue is the story of a village community in Portugal, told through the lives of men and women whose families have lived there for generations and some who are passing through. For Teresa, a beautiful girl not yet twenty, Mamarrosa is a place from which to escape. For the dysfunctional Potts family, it is a way of running from trouble (though not eluding it). Vasco, a café owner who has never recovered from the death of his American wife, clings to a notion that his years away from the village, in the States, make him superior. One English tourist fantasizes about making a new life in Mamarrosa; for her compatriots, a young engaged couple, Mamarrosa is where their dreams fall apart.
At the opening of Alentejo Blue, an old man reflects on his long and troubled life in this seemingly tranquil place, and anticipates the homecoming of Marco Afonso Rodrigues, the prodigal son of the village and a symbol of the now fast-changing world. When Marco does finally return, villagers, tourists, and expatriates are brought together, and their jealousies and disappointments inevitably collide.
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June 19, 2006
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Excerpt from Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali
At first he thought it was a scarecrow. Coming outside in the tired morning light to relieve his bladder, blessing as always the old Judas tree, Jo ' o turned his head and saw the dark shape in the woods. It took some time to zip his trousers. His fingers were like enemy agents. They pretended to be his instruments but secretly worked against him.
Jo ' o walked out beneath the moss-skinned branches thinking only this: Eighty-four years upon the earth is an eternity.
He touched Rui's boots. They almost reached the ground. "My friend," he said, "let me help you." He waited for the courage to look up and see his face. When it came, he whispered in his lacerated old man's voice. "Querido," he said. "Ruizinho."
* * *
Standing on the log that Rui had kicked away, Jo ' o took his penknife and began to cut the rope. He put his free arm across Rui's chest and up beneath his armpit, felt the weight begin to shift as the fibers sprang apart beneath the blade.
The almond blossom was early this year. The tomatoes too would come early and turn a quick, deceiving red. They would not taste of anything. Jo ' o took Rui's crooked hand in his own and thought: These are the things that I know. It was time to put the broad beans in. The soil that had grown the corn needed to rest. The olives this year would be hard and small.
He sat in the long grass with his back against the log and Rui resting against him. He moved Rui's head so it lay more comfortably on his shoulder. He wrapped his arms around Rui's body. For the second time he held him.
* * *
They were seventeen and hungry when they first met, in the back of a cattle wagon heading east to the wheat fields. Rui pulled him up without a word, but later he said, "There's work enough for all. That's what I hear." Jo ' o nodded, and when the hills had subsided and the great plains stretched out like a golden promise, he leaned across and said, "Anyone who wants work can find it." They moved their arses on the wooden slats and pretended they weren't sore and looked out farther than they had ever seen before, white villages stamped like foam on the blue, the land breaking against the sky.