Gary Lang's Reviews > Last Old Place: Search Through Portugal

Last Old Place by Datus Proper
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May 05, 2012

it was ok
Read in May, 2012

Looking at the book, reading the flap and back cover copy, you'd think that it was a typical travel literature book, along the lines of Paul Theroux. Like Theroux, the author, David Proper, writes about himself a bit more than the places he's writing about. He also clearly loves fishing; there were times when I thought I was reading a book about fishing rather than about Portugal.

Proper, a pseudonym for a former State Department diplomat, is well-read, and knows the history and geography of Portugal very well. He does not use these powers to illuminate the land he writes about as well as he might. Rather, he illuminates the fact that he knows about these things. This gets in the way of Portugal itself. However, if you can stick with it - and its hard: my wife gave up - you get a glimpse of what was then a recent transition from socialism to capitalism, during the early days of Eurodollar funding of the growth and construction spurt that Portugal underwent in the nineties. I went there in 1996 and 1999 and witnessed this phenomenon first hand.

Going to Portugal in 1996, I felt I had just missed seeing the last years of a nearly third world version of this European country. Lisbon, for example, looked like it was preserved under glass as a city in the 1930s. And many new houses in the countryside still had the older structure standing and decaying, as if to remind the land owners how fare they had come in a few short years.

"Proper" does a sufficient job conveying what this feels like, but does not project it forward to help us understand where Portugal is going, which is what you'd expect from someone so steeped in the history, politics and economics of the place.

The great book on Portugal remains to be found or written, for me.
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