The Lisbon Syndrome

Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles Paul Filev (translator)

A sudden catastrophe in Europe exposes the slow-motion destruction of a generation of Venezuelans and their struggle against repression.

In The Lisbon Syndrome, a disaster annihilates Portugal’s capital. In Caracas, Lisbon’s sister city and home to many thousands of Portuguese, few details filter through the censored state media.

Fernando runs a theater program for young people in Caracas, teaching and performing classics like Macbeth and Mother Courage. His benefactor, Old Moreira, is a childless Portuguese immigrant who recalls the Lisbon of his youth. Fernando’s students suffer from what they begin to call “the Lisbon syndrome,” an acute awareness that there are no possibilities left for them in a country devastated by a murderous, criminal regime. A series of confrontations between demonstrators and government forces draw the students and their teacher toward danger. One disappears into the state secret prisons where dissidents are tortured. The arts center that was their sanctuary is attacked, and Fernando is pulled into the battle in the streets.

The Lisbon Syndrome is the most trenchant contemporary novel to offer a glimpse of life and death in Venezuela. But Sánchez Rugeles’s bleak vision is lightened by his wry humor, and by characters who show us the humanity behind stark headlines.

  • “[The Lisbon Syndrome] celebrates...the power of stories to raise our awareness of the value of life in the midst of tragedies.” —Edward Waters Hood, World Literature Today

  • "The Lisbon Syndrome is a love song for two places, one that has vanished suddenly, another whose disappearance is unbearably slow. It's also a love song for the people who inhabited these places and keep fighting for them to the very end. Eduardo Sánchez Rugeles has written a courageous, beautiful novel." ―Rodrigo Hasbún, author of Affections

  • “The Lisbon Syndrome uses the notion of the apocalypse as a very explicit symbol, as a metaphor for a political debacle. Because if each human being is a universe, the world has ended once and again with each death. . . . The universes obliterated by the Venezuelan dictatorship cannot come back to life. Nevertheless, an apparent pessimistic view turns into a narration about the love for freedom and the ability to walk over ruins in order to protect it, to regain it, to own it." ―Keila Vall de la Ville, author of The Animal Days