The best books about why Portugal is weird

Why am I passionate about this?

Wendy Lee Hermance was heard on National Public Radio (NPR) stations with her Missouri Folklore series in the 1980s. She earned a journalism degree from Stephens College, served as Editor and Features Writer for Midwestern and Southern university and regional publications, then settled into writing real estate contracts. In 2012 she attended University of Sydney, earning a master’s degree by research thesis. Her books include Where I’m Going with this Poem, a memoir in poetry and prose. Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat marks her return to feature writing as collections of narrative non-fiction stories.

I wrote...

Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

By Wendy Lee Hermance,

Book cover of Weird Foods of Portugal: Adventures of an Expat

What is my book about?

When I arrived in Porto knowing no one, I had to pinch myself to believe what was happening. Having a low threshold for pain, I decided to write about it instead.

"With her typically American intrepidness, her thirst for a good story and her power of observation, Hermance closes-in on the Portuguese she encounters along the way, bringing to us a psychological picture of the Portuguese individual and society that you won´t find on expat guides….” - David Peres Rebelo
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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Salazar: The Dictator Who Refused to Die

Wendy Lee Hermance Why did I love this book?

My neighbor, who owns the local agricultural store where I buy honey, told me almost casually that his father died in prison under Salazar. 

Gallagher has written 15 books on world history and politics, so I chose his to understand the dictator´s lasting impact on society. Salazar hung with dictator Franco strategically as a shield against Hitler, who he told to lay off all European Jews with Portuguese names because “Portugal does not recognize racial distinctions.” Personally above reproach Salazar was tolerant of homosexuality and promiscuity in others, and he welcomed back exiled and imprisoned opponents into regime leadership. Exploitations by the professional guilds Salazar built exist today, but so does social value on correct and ethical behaviour. 

Maybe my neighbor´s father stole a pig.

By Tom Gallagher,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Salazar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Fifty years after his death, Portugal's Salazar remains a controversial and enigmatic figure, whose conservative and authoritarian legacy still divides opinion. Some see him as a reactionary and oppressive figure who kept Portugal backward, while others praise his honesty, patriotism and dedication to duty. Contemporary radicals are wary of his unabashed elitism and scepticism about social progress, but many conservatives give credit to his persistent warnings about the threats to Western civilisation from runaway materialism and endless experimentation.

For a dictator, Salazar's end was anti-climactic-a domestic accident. But during his nearly four decades in power, he survived less through reliance…

Book cover of Portugal: The Impossible Revolution?

Wendy Lee Hermance Why did I love this book?

One of few books I could get my hands on to decide whether I wanted to live in Portugal was this diary written by a young Canadian observer of the 1974 revolution that toppled Salazar´s regime. Cookbooks and tour guides were not going to help, and have you tried reading Saramago? Published in 1976 by Black Rose Books the reportage as it was unfolding has a breathless quality. The glossary of stakeholders´ acronyms is helpful. I learned 1) revolutions are probably never linear, 2) they require “strange bedfellows” to set aside differences, and 3) the Portuguese might be a peaceful, amenable, cohesive bunch. They are. 

By Phil Mailer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Portugal as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After the military coup in Portugal on April 25th, 1974, the overthrow of almost fifty years of Fascist rule, and the end of three colonial wars, there followed eighteen months of intense, democratic social transformation which challenged every aspect of Portuguese society. What started as a military coup turned into a profound attempt at social change from the bottom up and became headlines on a daily basis in the world media. This was due to the intensity of the struggle as well as the fact that in 1974–75 the right-wing moribund Francoist regime was still in power in neighboring Spain…

Book cover of Hunting Midnight

Wendy Lee Hermance Why did I love this book?

Portugal: The Impossible Revolution? a 1990s dissertation on rainfall patterns, and Richard Zimler's 1998 best-seller, The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon were the only books on Portugal I could find with useful content - more than enough to book a flight. Zimler´s second novel about the Zarco family connected with me because it connects Portugal with South Carolina, where I lived for decades. It was the first book to explain Portugal as weird—confusing, full of contradictions—because Portugal is not one country, but a mosaic of world cultures. For example, the main character´s father also went back and forth to Africa in the 18th century, which was mind-blowing to me. Zimler's depiction of the bond between former African slave Midnight, and John Zarco, each a survivor of state-sponsored violence was deeply moving. The book's period atmosphere, magical occurrences, and bird markets primed me to expect the same here. Which I have. 

By Richard Zimler,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hunting Midnight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Zimler's dazzling tale, John Zarco Stewart is an impish child of bold inquisitiveness, the unwitting inheritor of a faith shrouded in 300 years of secrecy. Dark and bitter events put an end to his innocence and almost destroy him, but he is healed by the arrival in his household of a mysterious young man from Africa.

Midnight is a freed slave brought to Porto by John's seafaring father, and he becomes John's greatest friend, ultimately determining the course of his life. But as John grows to manhood Midnight is lost to him, Napoleon's armies invade Portugal, and John's fragile…

Book cover of The Silk Roads: A New History of the World

Wendy Lee Hermance Why did I love this book?

From Zimler I learned even in the 18th and 19th centuries Portuguese zipped around the world. From Frankopan I learned this was going on much longer than that! Frankopan´s comprehensive history book is not only about Portugal, but it is more robust and expansive than the short book often mentioned, The First Global Village: How Portugal Changed the World by Martin Page. Both show Portugal as a fulcrum. All helped explain why Portugal is weird. I also recommend Frankopan's short sequel, The New Silk Roads, which clarifies the global power shifts happening now.

By Peter Frankopan,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Silk Roads as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The No. 1 Sunday Times and international bestseller - a major reassessment of world history in light of the economic and political renaissance in the re-emerging east For centuries, fame and fortune was to be found in the west - in the New World of the Americas. Today, it is the east which calls out to those in search of adventure and riches. The region stretching from eastern Europe and sweeping right across Central Asia deep into China and India, is taking centre stage in international politics, commerce and culture - and is shaping the modern world. This region, the…

Book cover of Unsheltered

Wendy Lee Hermance Why did I love this book?

As weird as Portugal is, and has been, it may become weirder yet as it absorbs masses of migrants from unexpected places. Unsheltered is fiction that I found accurately portrays the shock and terror of American life for hundreds of millions of families, driving many to migrate. The family portrayed in the book are solidly middle-class, educated professionals. They “did everything right” in the “richest country on the planet,” yet find themselves on a downward slide with no way back to security. Vineland, New Jersey in its present state, and in its 19th-century aspirational origin is the compelling setting. One great thing Kingsolver does is to give hope, creating “new normals” of happiness in frugality.

The Portuguese figured this out ages ago. It's called “soup.”

By Barbara Kingsolver,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Unsheltered as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?


2016 Vineland
Meet Willa Knox, a woman who stands braced against an upended world that seems to hold no mercy for her shattered life and family - or the crumbling house that contains her.

1871 Vineland
Thatcher Greenwood, the new science teacher, is a fervent advocate of the work of Charles Darwin, and he is keen to communicate his ideas to his students. But those in power in Thatcher's small town have no desire for a new world order. Thatcher and his teachings are not welcome.

Both Willa…

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By Lisa Redfern,

Book cover of Crossing: A Chinese Family Railroad Novel

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Why am I passionate about this?

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What is my book about?

Crossing is a vividly human re-imagining of the love, sacrifices, and accomplishments that two Chinese brothers - American Immigrants - experience as they travel to California to build the Transcontinental Railroad. 

Crossing: A Chinese Family Railroad Novel

By Lisa Redfern,

What is this book about?

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Leaving behind ancestral Chinese homelands and their family, brothers Yang and Lee face harrowing challenges as they join countless immigrants seeking a better life in the 1860s.

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Interested in Portugal, prime ministers, and South Carolina?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Portugal, prime ministers, and South Carolina.

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