‘Now and at the hour of our death’ by Susana Moreira Marques

Now and At the Hour of Our Death book coverThis is Moriera Marques’s first book; a slim volume with not a syllable wasted (London: & Other Stories, 2015. Translated by Julia Sanchez). Now and at the hour of our death comes from this award-winning journalist’s visits, over a period of five months in 2011, to northern Portugal, to an out of the way part of an already remote region known as Trás-os-Montes; in other words, over the hills and far away. She went there to observe the work of a team of healthcare professionals as they worked to bring palliative care to dying patients in that otherwise forgotten part of the country. The aim of the team was to help their patients live out the end of their lives in as much comfort and with as much dignity as possible; dying in company and at home.

Apart from the human stories from people of varying ages and circumstances in these villages, the lyrical prose, the variety of dramatic unfolding of the stories, and the obvious empathy of the writer combine to bring the reader very close to each individual and their families, coping with the inevitable. They are coping too with rural depopulation, as the younger Trasmontanos leave for towns, cities and to go abroad. Some have gone to what was Portuguese Angola but been driven from there by the independence civil wars and have had to come back to their home villages to die.

The quality of the language owes much to the talented translator, Brazilian-born Julia Sanches, who does that relatively rare thing of translating out of her mother tongue into her learned language of English.

It’s good to read a little non-fiction as an antidote to the escapism engendered by fiction. The enterprising publisher, & Other Stories, who bring Anglophones many excellent books of fiction from other parts of the world, has done us all a favour with this poetic factual account of a universal problem.

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