Reading tips: Novels set in Lisbon

Lisbon book shop
Old book shop in Lisbon

The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon by Richard Zimler

Essentially a murder mystery story that takes place in 1506, this seething drama is set against a backdrop of Christian against Jew. As Christianity sweeps Portugal, the Jews continue to practice their faith in secret whilst atrocities occur all around them. The narrator of the novel is Berekiah Zarco, a young manuscript illuminator. After finding his uncle murdered he embarks on a journey to reveal the murderer. Said to be factually based, this novel is powerful, gruesome and utterly absorbing.


Requiem: A Hallucination by Antonio Tabucchi

Written by an Italian author, this novel is a dreamlike journey through Lisbon. Written as a tribute to the Portuguese poet Fenando Pessoa, this beautiful short novel centres on the quest of the narrator to meet the ghosts of the past whilst giving the reader a fascinating and surreal taste of Lisbon.


A Small Death in Lisbon by Robert Wilson

This thriller follows centres on the unfolding of two stories – the investigation into the murder of a young girl in Lisbon and the tale of Klaus Felsen, a Nazi officer sent to Lisbon to gain supplies to support the war effort. The two stories seem seperate at first but over time begin to weave together in a fascinating, brutal unrelenting plot that earned it the prestigious Gold Dagger Award for the best mystery written in 1999.


The Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon by Henry Fielding

In real life Henry Fielding sailed to Portugal in an attempt to search for a cure for his rapidly deterioting health. Sadly he died in Lisbon two months after his arrival. This novel is his personal narrative of his last journey.


The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis by Jose Saramago

Considered to be one of Saramego’s greatest novels and winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Literature The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis follows the title characters torment on his return to Lisbon after living in Brazil. Ricardo Reis was one of the pseudonyms used by the great Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa. In this novel, Ricardo Reis meets the ghost of Pessoa and is taken on a philosophcal journey exploring the idea of life and death. Much of the time the reader is given little indication of what is real and what is fantasy along the way but the novel becomes all the more intriguing and compelling  because of this.


The Lisbon Crossing by Tom Gabbay

Forced to leave Hollywood with a hit man trailing him after an affair with a directors wife, Jack Teller makes his way to Lisbon on the arm of fallen German filmstar Lili Sterne. Lili is trying to trace her friend Eva but detective Eddie Grimes winds up dead on her trail. Teller suddenly finds himself caught up in a dangerous world of political intrigue in the early years of World War Two. A novel packed full of suspense.


Escape to Lisbon by Bill Coulton

After a harsh brush with cancer, elderly Lily Fuller decides to head for Lisbon on a journey of personal exploration. She asks old friend Hank to accompany her and he in turn is joined by his son and daughter-in-law. This is a gentle novel that follows Lily’s new appreciation of life in the face of death.


An Explanation of the Birds by Antonion Lobo Antunes

Rui S. is a political historian with a history of a failure. He failed in school, failed in politics and failed in marriage. Now in the later years of his life and witnessing the breakdown of his second marriage Rui is also breaking down mentally. He realises he must change his life somehow and decides to take his wife on holiday to Lisbon. Sadly Rui once again seems destined to be the loser of the tale.


The Dream Merchant of Lisbon by Gene Coyle

Based on the true life experiences of the author, this novel weaves the tale of CIA officer Shawn Reilly who in his later years has found himself in living in Lisbon working for a boss he doesn’t like and watching his marriage disintegrate. As a spy for the United States he is targetted by the Russian Intelligence Service. The suspense gathers pace as he begins a forbidden affair with a beautiful Russian woman.


The Following Story by Cees Nooteboom

The hero of the novel is Herman Musset, a quiet man living in Amsterdam who teaches Classics and spends most of his life reading. It seems he has lived an unremarkable life until one morning Herman wakes up to find himelf in Lisbon twenty years earlier in a room where he once made love to a married woman. This bizarre but touching novel will keep you guessing right up to the end. It is gloriously poetic and insighteful and full of literary references. Nooteboom has that rare ability to show wit whilst at the same time tugging on your heart-strings