Helder Macedo

Helder Macedo


Helder Macedo is the author of six novels, seven books of poems and many works of literary criticism. He spent his childhood in Mozambique and his formative years in Portugal. He lives in Eng-land, where he was Camoens Professor of Portuguese at King’s College London (1982–2004) and is now Emeritus Professor of Portuguese. He worked for the BBC in London, was visiting a professor at several universities in the U.S.A., France, Spain, and Brazil and was Secretary of State for Culture in Portugal. His novels were published in Portugal (Editorial Presença) and Brazil (Editora Record). Some of these were published in translation in Spain, Italy, and Germany. Two anthologies of his poems were published in Portugal (Presença) and Brazil (Record) and some of his poetry have been published in translation in the United Kingdom, France, Spain, and Germany.

Helder Macedo has been awarded a number of literary prizes in Portugal. His fiction is a unique blend of gripping narrative, clever structure, and subtle intro- and intertextual interrogations which operate at multiple levels, appealing to both specialists from cultural, postcolonial and psychoanalytical studies, and to general readers seduced by the author’s subversive mastery of the literary form. Phillip Rothwell, King John II Professor of Portuguese and director of the European Humanities Research Center at Oxford University, who translated Partes de África (Parts of Africa) into English, is organizing a series of conferences on Helder Macedo’s work, which will happen in November 2015, when the author will have his 80th birthday.


“The title of Helder Macedo’s sixth novel is like an incitement from Luís de Camões to future generations. Such Long a love So Short a Life (borrowed from the sonnet in which the poet sings Jacob’s sacrifice for Rachel) is a psychological thriller that crosses 20 years of history and half a world between Israel and Brazil, with Berlin, London, and Lisbon with equal roles in the development of the narrative.”
– Maria João Martins, reviewer, O Estado de São Paulo

The narrator of this literary psychological thriller is a Portuguese writer living in London. Late one night he has an unexpected visit from a diplomat friend and fellow-countryman who is participating in a conference on the Middle East. The diplomat claims to be in danger, having escaped from a nearby house where a woman and an older man, possibly of Middle Eastern origin, had been holding him since his kidnap that morning. The woman had spoken to him of experiences he had shared with the young opera singer he had fallen in love with at the beginning of his career in East Berlin who had disappeared on the day the Wall came down. She spoke as though she herself had been that young woman, telling him that after leaving Berlin she had lost her voice following a serious illness. The writer, only half-believing in his friend’s bizarre tale (the details seemed ambiguous and inconsistent) and suspecting it may have been an attempt to cover up a crime he may have committed (there were traces of blood on his shirt cuff), decides to write his own version of what might have happened in the twenty-three years between the young singer’s disappearance and the supposed kidnap.

When the diplomat returns to London, the writer shows him the fictional reconstruction of what might have led to the alleged kidnap and possible crime. The consequences are dramatic and unforeseen. Set against the background of current political issues, the combination of the two narratives — the diplomat’s allegedly factual but implausible account and the writer’s fictional but plausible reconstruction — produces an intellectually probing and witty novel which explores interconnections between fact and fiction, memory and imagination, perversion and disguise, love and desire.

Publication/Status: Published by Presença (Portugal), in March 2013; Rocco (Brazil) in September 2013.
Long English sample.


This was the first truly postcolonial novel from Portugal. Published in 1991, it was a major critical success in Brazil and has been studied widely in the English-speaking world in comparative literature and Portuguese Studies programs, including those at Brown, Yale, Oxford, and Rutgers. Parts of Africa is the poignant memoirs of a South-African-born Portuguese academic whose childhood and adolescence straddle the former colonies of Mozambique, Guinea Bissau, and São Tomé. The narrator’s recently deceased father had served the Portuguese state as an efficient colonial administrator whose tact and common sense averted crises and improved lives. The plot’s central tension emerges from the narrator’s maturing realization of and growing opposition to what colonialism really meant not just for Africa, but for Portugal itself.

Through multiple dialogues with cultural giants, from Mozart and Machado de Assis to Shakespeare and Stendhal, Parts of Africa teases out the ambivalences and ambiguities of Portugal’s interaction with its colonies, and by extension, the complexities of all colonial legacies.

Publication/Status:  by Presença (Portugal) and Record (Brazil). [176 pages]

Full English translation by Oxford professor Phillip Rothwell.