Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

The Inquisitors’ Manual

by António Lobo Antunes Translated from Portuguese by Richard Zenith

“Antunes creates voices with a scrupulous, authorial neutrality. . . . He also has created a character in Senhor Francisco . . . as complex in his cunning, blindness, selfishness and casual brutality as King Lear.” –Thomas McGonigle, The Los Angeles Times

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 448
  • Publication Date May 19, 2004
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4052-4
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $20.00

About The Book

An international best-seller and the novel that established Antune’s reputation in Europe, The Inquistor’s Manual is a harrowing indictment of Portuguese fascism.

António Lobo Antunes is one of the great European literary masters, a writer of whom The Boston Globe has said, “When Antunes is in full heat . . . he reads like William Faulkner or Céline.”

The Inquistors’ Manual chronicles the decadence not just of a family but of an entire society–a society morally and spiritually vitiated by four decades of totalitarian rule. Senhor Francisco, a once powerful state minister and a personal friend of the Portuguese dictator Salazar, is incapacitated by a stroke, and as he spends his last days in a nursing home in Lisbon, he reviews his life and his loves. His son Jo’o, raised by the housekeeper, grows up to be good-hearted but totally inept, so that his ruthless in-laws easily defraud him of his father’s farm. The minister’s daughter, Paula, whom he had by the cook and who was raised by a childless widow in another town, is ostracized after the Revolution due to her father’s position in Salazar’s regime.

The emotional turmoil enveloping Francisco’s family finally catches up with him when the Revolution ends the forty-two years of the dictatorship, and the old regime tumbles like a castle of cards. Senhor Francisco, more paranoid than ever, remains a large but empty shadow of his seeming omnipotence. Drawing comparison to The Sound and the Fury and Moby-Dick, The Inquistors’ Manual is a fierce exploration of life under one of the worst dictators of the last century, and a modern classic.

Tags Literary


The Inquisitor’s Manuel is not so much an allegory of fascism as an anatomy of the way it penetrates societies. . . . Arrogance, brutality, moral squalor–much here is reminiscent of another anatomist of tyranny’s intimacies, William Faulkner. . . . Motives that seemed clear mutate into their opposite; villains and victims change places, then change places again; ironies mount, and with them the force of the blows they deliver. The story takes shape like a painting, its pattern gradually emerging as the artist traverses and re-traverses its surface. . . . Personal nightmares become national tragedies, in turn breeding new and ever fiercer nightmares.” –William Deresiewicz, The New York Times Book Review

“A brilliant performance. Too often, novelistic treatments of life under a dictatorship are unrelentingly bleak, but Lobo Antunes’s witnesses are wonderfully diverse in their testimonials: Some are bitter, but others are funny, sarcastic or simply clueless. . . . Together, they provide a panoramic view of recent Portuguese history that is impressive both as a work of art and as a condemnation of fascism.” –Steven Moore, The Washington Post

“Antunes creates voices with a scrupulous, authorial neutrality. . . . He also has created a character in Senhor Francisco . . . as complex in his cunning, blindness, selfishness and casual brutality as King Lear.” –Thomas McGonigle, The Los Angeles Times

“Vast and masterful. . . . A scathing critique of the regime of fascist dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, but it’s also a domestic drama chronicling the ruin of an aristocratic family during the Communist revolution of the mid-1970’s. Brimming with sex, violence and decadence, The Inquisitor’s Manuel has the sweep of a grand Bertoluccian saga.” –Dodie Bellamy, San Francisco Chronicle

“A swirl of narratives and perspectives revolving around the family of powerful, eccentric oligarch in Salazar’s government. . . . Antunes, one of the most skillful psychological portraitists writing anywhere, renders the turpitude of an entire society through an impasto of intensely individual voices.” –The New Yorker

“Fiery and starling. . . . Antunes’ obsessive rendering of each character exerts a coherent force on the sprawl of the novel. . . . It has been said that to read this master of a dozen novels is like trying to board a fast-moving train, and indeed, it is an exhilarating and consuming experience to get on board.” –Wingate Packard, The Seattle Times

“A vivid exploration of life under one of the worst dictators of the last century.” –Michael Shelden, The Baltimore Sun

“A brilliant performance. . . . Antunes’ witnesses are wonderfully diverse in their testimonials: Some bitter, some funny, others sarcastic or simply clueless. . . . A panoramic view of recent Portuguese history that is impressive as a work of art and as a condemnation of fascism.” –Steven Moore, Miami Herald

“This novel powerfully portrays the hopelessness of Portugal’s lower classes. . . . Antunes’s grasp of the workings of his characters’ minds is amazing. . . . The Inquisitors’ Manual will be remembered for the voices of its characters . . . and the dark humor that emerges from the conflict between their desires and the hopelessness of their situations.” –Chad W. Post, Review of Contemporary Fiction

“Antunes, who trained as a psychologist, reaches into the desperate horror of human longing and the innate yearning to feel complete. . . . This book is a shrill warning which demands the reader’s attention. It is hardly any wonder Antunes has been nominated for the Nobel Prize. . . . It is the interpenetrating points of view, which allow minor characters to take center stage, that make this book magical.” –M. Casey Diana, Magill’s Literary Annual, 2004

“Riveting. . . . Closing this difficult and extraordinarily rewarding book, one is tempted to say, “Portugal, yes, I was there. I know what that was like.” Antunes has opened the doors and windows of his nation’s secret history.” –Nagle Jackson, The New Jersey Times

“Using stream of consciousness, Antunes gets to the heart and soul of the depravity of Portugal’s Salazar dictatorship through the lives that were affected.” –American Library Association

“Antunes recreates the harrowing story of Salazar’s regime. . . . With this tapestry of harrowing testimonials, the supremely confident Antunes illuminates a dark corner of European history and produces a stunning piece of narrative art.” –Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Remarkable. . . . A gripping tale of the struggle of people to live under an oppressive, omnipresent government. . . . Antunes brings these characters to life through their own stories, from their own viewpoints, as he toggles between ‘reports’ and “commentary” of the vents and the thoughts behind them.” –Michael Spinella, Booklist (starred review)

“António Lobo Antunes is a novelist of the very first rank. His formidably concentrated, ironic fictions engage moral and political issues in a way that makes him heir to Conrad and to Faulkner. For the English-language reader, there is a world to discover.” –George Steiner, author of The Death of Tragedy and Grammars of Creation

“In so dark a tale there can be no chirpy affirmations, but only telling indictments of the corrupt, the cruel, and the unjust–and these Antunes memorably accomplishes. . . . Antunes experiments with language and ideas in a story both allusive and surreal. . . . What counts is the cumulative effect and an atmosphere rendered so that history is both judged and understood.” –Kirkus Reviews

“Antunes’s razor-sharp eye dissects the outsized shadow cast by this fallen minister of state in all of its paranoia-induced variations. Remarkable for its descriptive exuberance.” –Jack Shreve, Library Journal

“In this, perhaps Lobo Antunes’s blackest novel to date, what impels the reader through the hopeless, loveless landscape he paints is the sheer energy of the writing, the scalpel-sharp eye for physical and psychological detail and the parade of vivid characters voicing their discontents and desires.” –Margaret Jull Costa, Times Literary Supplement

The Inquisitors’ Manual is a dense and profound book. . . . [It is] a terrifying portrait of the moral decrepitude of Portugal during the [Salazar] dictatorship.” –El Peri’dico (Madrid)

Praise for António Lobo Antunes

“A master navigator or the human psyche . . . [with] the voice of Nabokov by way of Cortazar, Gogol by way of Dylan.” –Jonathan Levi, Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Perhaps Portugal’s greatest living author . . . A genius.” –Alan Kaufman, San Francisco Chronicle Book Review


A New York Times Book Review Notable Book
An ALA Notable Book of the Year


Chapter One: REPORT

And as I walked into the courtroom in Lisbon I thought about the farm. Not the farm as it is today, with the garden statues all smashed, the swimming pool without water, the kennels and the flower beds overrun by couch grass, the old manor house full of leaks in the roof, the rain falling on the piano with the autographed picture of the queen, on the chess table missing half the chessmen, on the torn-up carpet and on the aluminum cot that I set up in the kitchen, next to the stove, where I toss and turn all night, afflicted by the cackling of the crows.

as I walked into the courtroom in Lisbon I didn’t think about the farm as it is today but about the farm and the house in my father’s day, when Setúbal.

(a city as insignificant as a provincial small town, a few lights dancing around the bandstand in the square, flickers in the dark night pierced by the dogs’ anguished howls).

hadn’t yet reached the main gate and the willows along the wall but sloped straight down to the river in a jumble of trawlers and taverns, Setúbal where the housekeeper did the shopping on Sunday mornings, dragging me along by the elbow under the flurrying pigeons.

the house and farm from my father’s day with the staircase flanked by granite angels, with hyacinths growing all along the walls, and with a bustle of maids in the hallways like the people bustling in the lobby outside the courtroom.

(it was July and the trees on the Rua Marqu’s da Fronteira twisted in the sun against the building façades).

in clusters that hurriedly formed and disbanded around the elevators, and amid all the witnesses and defendants and bailiffs, my lawyer, holding the sleeve of my sweater, pointed out the steps.

“This way, Senhor Jo’o, divorces are this way.”

and I, oblivious to him, oblivious to the courtroom, remembered that long-ago July in Palmela.

(I must have been fifteen or sixteen years old because the new garage next to the beech trees was being built, the tractor rumbled beyond the vegetable garden, and the metal blades of the windmill creaked in the heat).

when I heard murmurs and whispers and steps in the chapel, not the sounds of chickens or turtledoves or magpies but of people, perhaps the gypsies from Azeitío making off with the Virgin Mary and the carved candlesticks.

(women in black skirts, men blowing on flames under coffeepots, sad scrawny mules).

and I grabbed one of the canes from the stoneware umbrella stand in the foyer and trotted across the dining room.

“This way, Senhor Jo’o, divorces are this way.”

where the chandelier sprinkled glass shadows onto the tablecloth, I leapt over the flower bed with birds-of-paradise, I leapt over the petunias, the chapel door was open, the candles fluttered under the arches, but I didn’t find the gypsies from Azeit”o.

(women in black skirts, men blowing on flames under coffeepots, sad scrawny mules).

I found the cook lying flat out on the altar, her clothes all tousled, with her apron around her neck, and my father beet red, cigarillo in his mouth and hat on his head, holding on to her hips and looking at me without anger or surprise, and on that same Sunday, after yelling his responses to the priest’s Latin along with the steward, the housekeeper, and the maids, lighting up his cigarillos during communion, my father.

(the wind shook the withered dahlias and the swamp’s eucalyptus trees, which expanded and contracted to the rhythm of the algae’s breathing).

called me into his office whose window faced the greenhouse of orchids and the murmur of the sea.

“Let’s hope your wife is on time, so the judge doesn’t reschedule your divorce for the Greek calends”. (but there weren’t any seagulls, you don’t find seagulls on that side of the mountains).

and he stood up from his desk, walked around it toward me, pulled his Zippo lighter from his vest, and placed his hand around my neck as if he were inspecting a lamb or a calf from the stable.

“I do everything a woman wants except take my hat off, so that she won’t forget who’s boss.”

My father with his hand on the neck of the steward’s teenage daughter, a dirty, barefoot redhead who squatted on a wooden stool while squeezing the cows’ teats, my father grabbing her by the neck and forcing her to bend over the manger while still holding on to the pails of milk, my father once more beet red as he rammed his navel into her buttocks, the tip of his lit cigarillo pointing at the rafters without the steward’s daughter ever once protesting, without the steward ever protesting, without anyone ever protesting or thinking of protesting, my father lifting his hand from my neck and disdainfully waving toward the kitchen, the maids’ quarters, the orchard, the whole farm, the whole world.

“I do everything a woman wants except take my hat off, so that she won’t forget who’s boss.”

My father who on Saturdays, after lunch, would have the chauffeur buy half a pound of arrowroot cookies and drive him into Palmela, to the house of the pharmacist’s widow up near the castle, a duplex with crocheted curtains and a plaster-of-Paris cat on the sideboard, and he’d return to the farm in the evening reeking of cheap perfume, within half an hour I’d hear him snoring in the living room, asleep in the easy chair with his hat covering his eyebrows and the last cigarillo hanging from his lips as the owls from the swamp whooed in the garden, and the lawyer, who dressed like an expensive lawyer, the color of his shirt matching that of his socks, tapped his fingernail against his watch.

“If your wife is late for the divorce hearing, we’re cooked.”

the lawyer hired for me by my oldest daughter after she showed up at the farm and laid into me, shocked by the windows without windowpanes and the rotted floorboards, shocked to find a pot of cold soup next to the queen’s picture on the piano, shocked to see fruit skins strewn on the rug.

“How can you live all alone in a pigsty like this?”

the expensive lawyer whose hair was cut by an expensive barber and who received me in a fancy office with expensive pictures and expensive leather-bound books on expensive shelves, his expensive wife and expensive children smiling at me from out of a silver frame, and the furniture almost as expensive as my father’s, the lawyer pretending not to notice the piece of rope I used for a belt, my unpolished shoes, my socks hanging limply at my ankles, my threadbare trousers, eyeing me with the same bored contempt my mother-in-law displayed when for the first time, knocking over bibelots and all embarrassed, I entered the mansion in Estoril, my mother-in-law who was playing bridge with her sisters-in-law, scooping up a trick in a blaze of flashing rings, and she raised her eyebrow as if at a gardener whose incompetence had ruined the shrubs on the terrace.

“And do you have the means, young man, to maintain Sofia at the level she’s accustomed to?”

the lawyer frowning at my sport coat that was too short, at the patch on my trouser seat, and at my joke of a mustache, playing with his silver mechanical pencil in a cloud of aftershave as he tried to pull out of my case without letting down my daughter.

“We’ll see what can be done, Senhor Jo’o, but I can’t make any promises.”

and when I left, the receptionist stared at me as if I were a Jehovah’s Witness or sold encyclopedias, and my oldest daughter, poking through the kitchen drawers where my underwear was mixed in with the silverware.

(the forks bent out of shape, the spoons turning green, the knives too dull to cut).

“Don’t you at least have one decent suit?”

and Sofia brushing my shoulders with the back of her hand.

“You could dress up just a little to meet my mother.”

and my mother-in-law forgetting all about the cards when I knocked over a lamp.

“Are you a moron, young man, or are you just pretending?”

I in the courtroom in Lisbon, escorted by the lawyer whose fingernail tapped on his wristwatch and remembering the windmill’s rust-darkened blades that no wind could turn anymore, the vacant kennels, and the hungry German shepherds running wild over the mountains or howling in the swamp as a court clerk began to read out names, making an X with a pencil for each person who answered, remembering when I took my fianc”e to the farm in August and my father was in a rocking chair in the courtyard drinking lemonade with the sergeant’s wife, a woman dressed in baroque satins who caught the bus in Set”bal on the afternoons when her husband was on duty at the barracks, and I said.

“Dad, this is Sofia.”

and from behind his drooping eyelids my father ogled her as he ogled the cook, the steward’s daughter, the gypsy women, and the maids, pressing his hat down with a flick of his finger.

“Do whatever she wants except take your hat off, so that she won’t forget who’s boss.”

and the nervous lawyer showing me his watch.

“What do you suppose happened to your wife?”

Sofia shyly blushing and fiddling with her hair band, the crows cackling in the beech trees, the house’s reflection trembling in the swimming pool, the sergeant’s wife offering us godmotherly smiles, my father sizing up Sofia, speaking in the same distracted voice he used when speaking about the animals in the stable.

“She’s a skeleton, a coat hanger, you never understood squat about heifers.”

and the lawyer suddenly calm, suddenly serious, turning toward the elevator while pulling on his shirt cuffs.

“Here at last, Senhor Jo’o.”

and there was Sofia not wearing a hair band not twenty years old not blushing shyly and not brushing my shoulders with the back of her hand, flanked by a lawyer who was the mirror image of mine, his replica, his twin, both with their hair cut by an expensive barber, both with custom-tailored Cheviot suits, both self-confident, authoritarian, severe, floating in the same aftershave with the majesty of conger eels, Sofia with my mother-in-law’s ring on her wedding finger, Sofia with my mother-in-law’s haughty effrontery.

(“Are you a moron, young man, or are you just pretending?”)

not looking at me not smiling at me not telling me.

“You could dress up just a little, Jo’o.”

and I to my lawyer who looked just like her lawyer.

“I should never have taken my hat off, so that no one would forget who was boss.”

and the lawyer, bewildered, from the pinnacle of his Cheviot suit.


the lawyer who resembled the lawyers, bankers, finance managers, national assemblymen, and government ministers who came to the farm in my father’s day, invisible in the opaque windows of their hearselike cars that proceeded up the cypress-lined drive leading from the main gate to the house, and they would distractedly stroke my chin and remark, without looking at me.

“How you’ve grown.”

before disappearing into the room with the piano for the rest of the day amid a whirl of trays carried by white-gloved maids, the housekeeper ordering me to play out back, the steward chasing away the crows and quieting down the dogs, the lawyers, bankers, finance managers, assemblymen, and government ministers who left in their huge cars when it was already night, vanishing from view on the road to Lisbon as my father, forgetting about them, turned back to the breathing of the swamp where the last turtledoves were already taking refuge, Sofia walking past me with her mother’s haughty effrontery and my bewildered lawyer leaning closer to hear better.

“Excuse me?”

I not in the courtroom but on the farm, talking to my father over the wailing of the frogs.

“I should never have taken my hat off, so that no one would forget who was boss.”

and the lawyer, whose startled eyebrows almost touched his hairline.

“Excuse me?”

as if he weren’t there in the courtroom but in Estoril, at the bridge game in Estoril where the window looked out onto the palm trees of the casino, and he had snapped at me in anger because of the lamp I’d just broken.

“Are you a moron, young man, or are you just pretending?”

the mansion in Estoril where I took my father, who had dressed up like a hillbilly, with sheepskin boots, a copper chain on his vest, an old hat on his head, and a cigarillo between his teeth, who had left the Nash in the garage with the uniformed chauffeur buffing the chrome and had hired Palmela’s only taxi, driven by a kind of clown who wore a peak cap with a shiny visor and who stopped at every tavern on the pretext of cooling off the motor while he spent hours among the vine bowers and flies, my father accompanied by the pharmacist’s widow, who hid behind a pearl cameo, a Spanish fan with missing ribs, and a yelping, microscopic lapdog, the widow and I roasting inside the taxi that smelled like an old shoe box as my father and the clown with a shiny peak cap quaffed glasses of wine and cooled down the radiator with straw fans, their bodies covered with car grease, so that we didn’t make it to Estoril until long after lunch, when they’d stopped waiting for us and were playing bridge on the terrace looking out onto the beach and the seagulls, and my mother-in-law didn’t shudder at my father’s bad manners as he pushed the widow and her microscopic dog into the house.

“Are you a moron, young man, or are you just pretending?”

leaving the clown in the courtyard to reel among the hydrangeas and to screw and unscrew the engine of the taxi that shook in spasmodic fits of agony, my father with teacup in hand ogling Sofia’s mother and her sisters-in-law from behind his drooping eyelids in the same way he ogled the cook, the steward’s daughter, the gypsy women, and the maids, without taking his hat off or putting out his cigarillo, all set to push any one of them into the first vacant room, lift her skirt, and flatten her buttocks against a cabinet or a dresser whose drawers would creak, all set to tell whoever might walk in.

“I do everything a woman wants except take my hat off, so that she won’t forget who’s boss.”

my father with a teacup, the pharmacist’s widow feeding cookie crumbs to her horrid little mutt, which was protected by a woolen sweater, and my mother-in-law not angered or outraged but indulgent.

“What a pity your boy didn’t inherit your sense of humor, Francisco.”

and past the palm trees lay the sea and the pontoon where white seagulls calmly perched, so different from the unruly crows on the farm.

“What a pity your boy didn’t inherit your sense of humor, Francisco.”

Excerpted from The Inquisitors’ Manual

©2003 by António Lobo Antunes. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.