When her mother died of Covid-19 in a home for the elderly on lockdown, it had been at least forty days since author Lídia Jorge had seen her face-to-face. Her mother’s last request was for her to write a book named “Mercy”, depicting people's compassion for those who have lost their strength and ability to live independently.
At first unsure of how to fulfil her late mother's final wishes, Jorge soon embarked on one of her career's most transformative writing experiences.
Al Majalla spoke to Jorge, whose style is rooted firmly in Portuguese literary traditions, to hear more about Mercy (Misericordia) – and why the recent war in Europe has stopped her from writing her latest book.
You have written fiction, children’s literature, essays, and poetry throughout your career. Tell me more about your beginnings and when you first decided to get published.
My introduction to literature happened in childhood when my family and I didn't know what it meant. We only knew what a good story was and the art of telling it. We lived in the countryside, in the Algarve, the southernmost region of Portugal, bathed by the Atlantic Ocean and bordering the Mediterranean.
In the 1950s, the men in my family – farmers and craftsmen – decided to emigrate to Africa, North America and South America, but the women stayed.
In our house, three women remained. Perhaps that is where my history with books began. I learned to read at an early age, and I would read aloud to my mother, aunt and grandmother.
The books they liked were dramatic novels, so in the evenings, I would read to them so the three of them could listen while they did their sewing work. They were sad stories of terrible mismatches, according to the canon of Romanticism.
As a child, the lives of these adult figures (in these books) seemed enigmatic, uncertain, and monstrous. They made me want a peaceful life for myself. So, during the day, I would write short school essays opposite the stories I read at night.
In my essays, fathers recognised their children, seductive lovers courted abandoned women, and criminals finally asked the emperor for forgiveness to save themselves from being hanged.
These narratives helped me feel less lost in the middle of human conflict. By writing through the eyes of a child seeking security and stability, I could use fantasy to change how the world works.