AND REWRITING THE PORTUGUESE STEREOTYPE”:
A Review of Amy Brill’s The Movement of Stars
Penguin Group (Canada)
90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700
Toronto, ON M4P 2Y3
Hardcover: April 18, 2013, 400 pp., $27.95, ISBN 978.1.59448.744.6
Paperback: May 6, 2014, 448 pp., $16.00, ISBN 978.1.59463.237.2
REVIEW BY OONA PATRICK
This essay first appeared in The Puritan (http://puritan-magazine.com/), Issue 25, spring 2014, and is reprinted with permission of the author.
Early 2013 saw the publication of both Amy Brill’s novel The Movement of Stars and the online version of Eric Andrew-Gee’s controversial article, “What’s Eating Little Portugal?,” which first appeared in Maisonneuve‘s print edition in September 2012. The latter explores the high school dropout rate among students of Portuguese descent in Toronto, and caused a stir in the Portuguese community, especially when it moved online. Its stunningly bleak assessment provoked commenters on blogs, Facebook, and Reddit, many of them Portuguese Canadian or Portuguese American. While it is hard to say for certain, the controversy may have helped the article become one of the magazine’s top-ten most read online pieces of the year.
Around the same time, I read Brill’s novel, a story of a taboo relationship between an Azorean Portuguese whaler and an educated Anglo woman on nineteenth-century Nantucket Island. I realized that, unlike the article, the novel marked a quiet turning point in the long, often ugly, history of representation of the Portuguese in British and American literature. That history goes back to Byron, then crosses the Atlantic to Hawthorne, Twain, Steinbeck, and beyond. These representations, while apparently parodied by no less than Melville himself in his short story “The ‘Gees,” have remained under examined in Anglophone culture. Those in the Portuguese community who might point them out, including the growing numbers of Luso-descendant writers, have either not been heard outside of academia, or have remained silent until recently. Both the article and the novel raise questions of selection and representation that have long needed to be addressed.
the negativity surrounding Portuguese Americans in the
United States, as if somehow there was something peculiarly
wrong with them. I kept hearing individual stories of people
who had achieved high levels of education, becoming
but their parents were factory workers and had low levels of
education. Those stories were incongruent with the common
assumption that the Portuguese were not well integrated in
American society. And I asked myself: “what is really
but those who frequented the taverns by the wharves.
Slicked with paint and perfume. She wondered if his
lips were soft, and then, shockingly, what they would
Andrew-Gee, Eric. “What’s Eating Little Portugal?” Maisonneuve online. (January 7, 2013). Azevedo, Manuel. “‘What’s Eating Little Portugal,’ a riposte, or ‘The chickens come home to roost.'”