1808: The Flight of the Emperor.

Author:Dabbene, Peter
Position:Book review

Laurentino Gomes (author); 1808: THE FLIGHT OF THE EMPEROR; Lyons Press (Nonfiction: History) 28.95 ISBN: 9780762787968

Byline: Peter Dabbene

This vivid portrait of an unkempt, self-preserving king provides insight into the obscure history of Brazil.

The origins of the Portuguese influence in Brazil are not well known to most people, from the first Portuguese explorer's landing in 1500 to Brazil's eventual independence in 1822. Laurentino Gomes sheds light on a critical transition in Brazil's history in 1808: The Flight of the Emperor, the first volume in his trilogy of Brazilian history. Published in Portuguese in 2007, this edition, translated by Andrew Nevins, is the first English version.

The book starts with Portugal under threat by Napoleon's forces and the royal court deciding to escape by acting on long-considered plans to move itself to its prize colony and major source of wealth: Brazil. It's a bold plan but, given the limited alternatives, possibly the only viable one.

After the landing, Gomes proceeds with a meticulous and encyclopedic account of life in the colony of Brazil, as well as the doings of the Portuguese royalty in their new home. This is a story in which the main character, Dom JoA[pounds sterling]o (later King JoA[pounds sterling]o VI), is not easily classified -- he's certainly not heroic, but neither is he a villain. Unfortunately, he's also not terribly conflicted, or particularly interesting. Despite a queen who's classified as insane, there are no other major players that light up the reading -- Napoleon is a distant figure in most of the book, and there isn't a lot of excitement, for example, in the dry...

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