Portugal is an extraordinarily diverse country: from the mountains in the North to the vast plains of the Alentejo. From the sun-drenched beaches on and off the tourist trail, to the waterfalls which can only be reached by a small hiking path. And while the Algarve, Lisbon and Porto have found their way onto the tourist maps of many, large parts of Portugal still remain a well guarded secret, tranquil and authentic. With just the occasional tourist passing through, wondering no doubt, why nobody has discovered this idyllic part of the world.
This could be the questions that Monica Ali, the award-winning author of “Brick Lane” asked herself when she visited and decided to spend some time in the Alentejo. The result is her book “Alentejo Blue”, which recounts the different stories that come together in a small village, tucked away and hidden behind the cork oak forests of the region. Each chapter tells a different, though interwoven story of people living or passing through this little village: from the people who live there, amongst them the grumpy cafe owner, a closeted gay farmer, a young girl dreaming about ‘getting out’, an expat couple looking for the quiet life, and a foreign writer, hoping to find inspiration amongst the vast plains, olive trees and the wine on offer.
Maybe luckily the reviews of the book were mixed: many criticising the eclectic mix of styles and people that somehow appear in the story of the book. Often questioning, if a place like this could really exist. Could there really be a place that is home to such an eclectic mix of people, full of stories and history, yet seemingly unknown to the outside world? Someplace where the local attraction is a newly opened Internet cafe, serving toasted cheese sandwiches, while the internet is not actually working. Could it?
Maybe it all seems to unbelievable. Or maybe it just is the way it is. Either way, it certainly makes for a truly inspiring place. Exactly because the place is so unbelievable.
If you want to read more about this: Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali is available from all good booksellers.