The Forbidden Realm
A yearning for the unreachable
In The Forbidden Realm, J. Slauerhoff draws on existing stories, mainly from the nineteenth century, about Luis Camões, a sixteenth-century Portuguese poet and seaman who wrote the famous epic Os Lusíados in Macao in the late 1550s. Slauerhoff’s version is set in the twentieth century, with a ship’s radio operator as the main character. After a series of mishaps the radio operator lands at Macao. There he experiences some kind of hallucination that makes him identify with the Portuguese poet who lived three centuries earlier.
Rather than taking a romantic excursion into the past, Slauerhoff brings history into the present. The two travellers meet. Towards the end of the novel, Slauerhoff’s radio operator abandons his intention of breaking loose from the earth, of mortifying himself, and hopes instead that he will eventually succeed in accepting the life he has – something his creator never achieved: Slauerhoff had no home but his poetry, stories and novels.
The novel also reads like a fascinating travelogue, with its vivid descriptions of China and the Portuguese colony of Macao, and its account of an imaginary journey linking characters across several centuries.