Portrait 1st in a series: Miguel Torga
The Portuguese writer Miguel Torga was born in Trás-os-Montes e Alto Douro a region way up the northern most point of Portugal in 1907 but studied medicine at the University of Coimbra, (O Cidade de conhecimento) about half an hour’s drive from the little village where the writing retreat is nestled.
As you step off the bus by the River Mondego you will see a plaque dedicated to the city’s famous luminary. Yet this wasn’t what fate had initially mapped out for the young Miguel as he was packed off to Brazil in 1920 to make his fortune working on a coffee plantation. It was only after his uncle realised what a bright boy he was wasting with coffee beans that he decided to fund Miguel’s studies and sent him back to Portugal and his destiny to become one of Portugal’s most famous writers.
Although he practiced medicine the writing seed had already been planted and he ran both careers concurrently. He developed by joining the literary movement Presença but then in the 1930s founded two cultural magazines. This was potentially dangerous as Portugal was under the dictatorship of Salazar and both education and free speech were not something the dictator wished to develop in his predominantly peasant economy. After the publication of the book O Quarto Dia da Criação do Mundo (The 4th Day of the Creation of The World) he was arrested and held for two months, between December 1939 and February 1940.
Portugal was and still is a deeply Catholic country but Torga’s beliefs were agnostic and are dealt with in his writings. His stories deal predominatly with the nobility of the human spirit in its earthly condition. God does not make himself known in the ruthless and unforgiving world Torga witnessed in the hardship all around him. For him, God is presented as being indifferent to the human suffering which Miguel Torga treated every day of his professional life.
Torga often wrote under the nome de plume: Adolfo da Rocha, which under the circumstance was probably wise and he was also prolific diarist and actually published 16 volumes which makes for fascinating reading. His poetry, short stories and theatre works are beloved amongst the Portuguese.
He was awarded a number of significant prizes throughout his life and was nominated time and again for the Nobel Prize but never won. Everyone had high hopes he would be the first Portuguese writer to win. Jose Saramago finally took the crown some years later. Miguel Torga died in 1995.
If you want to gain a flavour of a writer working in Portugal with Portuguese concerns before coming to Portugal to write yourself, then ‘Bichos’ (Insects or Vermin) is a must and so is the collection of short stories: ‘Tales From The Mountain’ or ‘Contos da Montanha’ A posthumous collection of his poetry was published in 2000. On the other hand you can wait until you arrive at the writers retreat in Portugal as the library is filled with books by Portuguese writers and writings about Portugal.Tags: Famous Writers Portugal, Miguel Torga, University of Coimbra, Writers Retreat in Portugal