Book Bag: ‘Stormy Isles’ by Vitorino Nemésio; ‘Beautiful Stuff from Nature,’ edited by Cathy Weisman Topal and Lella Gandini

Published: 10/4/2019 10:02:19 AM


By Vitorino Nemésio

Translated by Francisco Cota Fagundes

Tagus Press/University of Massachusetts Press

Vitorino Nemésio (1901-1978) is considered one of Portugal’s most famous 20th-century writers, and though he spent much of his life in Lisbon, the country’s capital, he was born in the Azore islands and retained strong links to his ancestral home.

The Azores are the setting for what many consider his finest work, “Mau tempo no canal,” translated literally as “Bad Weather in the Channel.” But the 1944 novel has now been given a new translation in English — “Stormy Isles” — by Francisco Cota Fagundes, a professor emeritus of Spanish and Portuguese Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“Stormy Isles” is published by Tagus Press, a division of The Center for Portuguese Studies and Culture at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, and the book is being distributed by University of Massachusetts Press.

The novel is also a revision of an earlier edition and translation of “Stormy Isles” by Fagundes, and it’s part of “Bellis Azorica,” a new literary initiative at Tagus Press/UMass Dartmouth that’s dedicated to the literature, culture and history of the Azores.

Set in the Azores between 1917 and 1919, “Stormy Isles” is centered around a vivacious and intelligent young woman, Margarida, who comes from an elite island family but forgoes some of the entitlements of her class to try and pursue a life along more feminist terms — ensuring that she’ll have to battle the forces of patriarchy and tradition.

She’s fed up in particular with the idea that her only option in life is to marry — and to marry a man from another wealthy island family. “In a land where everything is inheritances and business, what can a girl be worth?” Margarida says bitterly to her uncle. “It’s the dresses, the ball, the birthday, the festival that one attends.”

Fagundes, in an introduction, also calls the book “a blend of Azorean saga, family novel, historical novel, a novel of manners” and a story with a classic tragedy plot, as it’s built partly around a case of unrequited love.

It’s also essentially a series of related stories, Fagundes says, “a seemingly endless Chinese box-of-tales that spin within a fictive world that might be described as a spawning ground for tellers of tales.”

In addition, Nemésio used “Stormy Isles” as a means to examine the Azores’ rich history as a seaborne crossroads, a place where traders and travelers from many countries and regions — Flanders, Germany, England, the United States — came through. Some eventually settled there and turned the port of Horta on the island of Fayal, where much of the book is set, into a “crossroads of internationalism” in the early 20th century, Fagundes writes.


Edited by Cathy Weisman Topal and Lella Gandini

David Publications, Inc.

If your kids are spending too much time indoors, glued to various digital devices, the editors of “Beautiful Stuff From Nature” have a suggestion: Get the children outside and expose them to the wonders of the natural world.

“Beautiful Stuff From Nature” is a lavishly illustrated guidebook for teachers (and for parents, too) on creating artistic projects for young children based on found materials. The book is edited by Cathy Weisman Topal, a research associate with the Smith College Department of Education and Child Study, and Lella Gandini, a graduate of both Smith and the University of Massachusetts Amherst who has taught and written about Reggio Emilia, an approach to early education in Italy.

The new book is a follow-up to a previous one of a similar title; both are based on visiting schools around the country, talking with teachers and examining ways in which they have their young students engage with materials from the outdoors in different types of lessons.

“There is a world of learning right outside the door,” the editors write, “if only we can access the possibility to see, smell, touch, and listen with all the senses as demonstrated in these stories.”

At a preschool in Richmond, Virginia, for instance, teachers noticed children regularly picking up objects from a school playground and garden — pebbles, sticks and leaves — and taking them into the classroom, where they’d soon be forgotten. So they created shelf space for students to store these natural treasures and also had them display them on a large, circular piece of black felt, where the children would talk about what they liked.

In addition, the teachers had the students draw pictures of these discoveries and taught them how to take pictures of them so as to have a permanent visual record. Teachers developed other arts projects and activities around these materials so that now “when children see the work of other children, it sparks their interest and captures their imagination.”

Separate chapters in “Beautiful Stuff From Nature” also examine specific outdoor activities for children, such as counting exercises involving acorns, constructing tiny boats to float down a stream and building stick sculptures on a beach.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at


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