What Can I Do When Everything's on Fire?:
by Antonio Lobo Antunes
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The work of António Lobo Antunes is held in such high regard that when José Saramago was awarded the Nobel Prize, in 1998, there was grumbling that it had gone to the wrong Portuguese writer. Only about half of Lobo Antunes’s sixteen novels have made it into English, though. Now, Gregory Rabassa has translated his 2001 What Can I Do When Everything’s on Fire? in a version so (predictably) elegant that at times I wondered whether the lowlife drag queens and junkies who people it sound so immaculate in the original.
The style is poetic stream-of-consciousness, with voices melting and melding into one another. The principal narrator is Paulo Antunes Lima, son of the transvestite showgirl and prostitute Soraia (or Carlos, when he isn’t in his blond wig) and the alcoholic teacher-turned-whore Judite—in other words,
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