Let me tell you about Quinta

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Dawn (Pakistan)
by Leila M. Barry
29th April, 2012

Following three generations of the Viegas family from the small Goan village of Carmona, Let Me Tell You About Quinta is a socio-historical account of Goan society between the19th century and the present day.

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Media Voice
21 March, 2012

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The Tribune
March 11, 2012

Of love and colonial tales

Randeep Wadehra

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The Telegraph
January 6, 2012

Let Me Tell You About Quinta by Savia Viegas does not have a protagonist. Suraj’s American wife, Carmona, comes to India hoping to usurp Quinta, the beautiful mansion belonging to her mother-in-law, Mari. Having set the novel in Goa, Viegas explores Goan history and weaves it effortlessly into the narrative. Her charming descriptions of a quintessential Goan village bring the beauty of Goa alive.

Gomantak Times
December 30, 2011

From the attic to the mansion.

Dale Luis Menezes

Tales from the Attic was the debut novel of the Carmona based writer, Savia Viegas. One may recall the review I had done of the same in this very newspaper a few months ago. Five years after her first novel, Savia Viegas has returned with another novel called Let me tell you about Quinta. The rigors and travails of self publishing, it seems, has taught an unforgettable lesson to Savia as her first book did reflect a certain rawness in its binding and printing. But her second book is published by a multi-national publisher is neatly packaged. Publishing matters apart, Let me tell you about Quinta would be welcomed by all the Goan bookworms!

Savia’s second book on some levels seems to be a sequel to the first and at other times gives the impression of being a prequel. Call it a sequel, a prequel or whatever; this novel fills in the many gaps from the previous one. Tales from the Attic, it was noticed, ended abruptly. Quinta seems to be making up for every detail that was left out in the first book.

In the true sense of the term, there is no protagonist in the story. Mari (spelt Marri in the first book) is no longer the main character (which is why I doubt this book is a sequel). Some parts of her second novel will only be understood clearly if the reader has acquainted him/herself with Savia’s first book. However, a sprawling mansion called ‘Quinta’ is where the whole story unfolds. If one may be permitted to expand the scope of the definition of ‘protagonist’, then Quinta, in a way, becomes the ‘protagonist’. It is an old, dilapidated house that is mired in litigation for many years. Yet the crumbling edifice does not lose its monetary value for there are repeated attempts to buy/appropriate the property

The book opens with the arrival of California, Mari’s son Suraj’s Russian-American wife, to Carmona. In connivance with Suraj (or Sun as he is known), she arrives with a hope to usurp Quinta along with the property, which Queirozito (same as Tito of the previous book) had so painfully won through litigation. The role of California just seems to be a very short one being that of a usurper with no major consequence on the overall story. Since she fails in circumventing the alert Queirozito, she flies back to America empty-handed.

In this novel, the genealogy of the maternal and paternal family of Mari is explored in greater detail. Quinta brings all the skeletons in the cupboard and sins of the landed family in the open. The conflict between the bhatkars and the mundkars is a theme that is constantly running through the novel. Although attempts are being made to bring this theme to life, enough, it is felt, is not done by the narrative. A critique of the position that the bhatkars and the mundkars occupied could have been woven in the narrative. Tish Ximeao, a bhatkar, laments about the mundkars not tilling their lands and going off to the Gulf to clean the “…toilets of Arabs.” We all hear such tirades, in one form or the other against the migrating Goans, a major chunk of who were presumably from the lower-caste Catholics. And this resentment could be located to emanate from this class of landed, upper-caste bhatkars. This binary division of a village society into a landed class and a non-landed, tilling class leaves out the caste factor that influenced (historically speaking) the acquisition – or rather – the usurpation of land in the first place. It is this caste equation that had the scope of being discussed in this novel.

There are a host of lovable and quirky characters in this book – some continuing from the old book and others newly introduced. It is when Savia constructs the characters of this novel and while describing the natural beauty and features of the village of Carmona that the writer is at her literary best. The book is actually a series of sections where the biography of each major character is discussed and there are these moments (just a few!) when one cannot help but notice some raw spots in the book. But because Savia has a way with words, one does not feel that the narrative drags or falls short in the literary department.

This novel also touches upon all the major political events that occurred in the last hundred or so years. There is the mention of Fanchu Loyola, the ‘nationalist’ who fought for Goa’s independence from Salazar’s dictatorship, the liberation of Goa, the Tenancy Act whereby the landed class lost its power and finally to more recent times: the land grabbing by the rich and fat builders from the north and the metros. It is only the elite characters who are seen reacting to these political changes. But to me, the illnesses and eccentricities of the characters is what takes the novel forward rather than the immense political changes providing the reader with subtle, humorous moments.

At the end of the novel, Robby the son of Piedade who was a mestiço orphan brought by Mari’s maternal grand-mother from an orphanage, returns back to Carmona, takes active part in local politics and goes on to win (with the ardent help of Preciosa, the mother of Mari) the panchayat polls! Robby is faced with conflicting situations where he is expected to check the many irregularities that take place in the village and comes out as a deeply disturbed and confused person. It is in the last few pages the author seems to lose her grip on some of the characters and their actions become hard to understand.

But, all said and done, I enjoyed reading Let me tell you about Quinta for the way it is written. The prose and tasteful descriptions of the picturesque village can be an added incentive for a lazy Sunday afternoon.

Business Standard
January 7, 2012

Laidback but not wasteful, descriptive yet opaque (as a foreign culture often is), this novel is about a Goan family and its ancestral house. Queirozito gets the house back after long litigation; then his grandson's wife shows up. Dark secrets are revealed.

The Navhind Times
January 6, 2012

From the land of stories

Anuradha Das

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Goa Today
February 2012

Going Down Memory Lane

Augusto Pinto

Who or what is Quinta? Although it means farmhouse in Portuguese, that doesn't tell much. To understand its significance in Savia Viegas's novel, read the opening lines:"So you see. This is how it ends. The pride of big houses."

Let me tell you about Quinta which is brought out by publishing major Penguin is a sequel to her first novel Tales from the Attic. It is not just about any old large dwelling place, but a Goan 'vhodlem ghor' and thus connotes a lot more.

It is one of those pre-twentieth century mansions, celebrated in coffee table books on Goan architecture, that were inhabited by the socially and economically dominant Portuguese-speaking bhatkar families. As Viegas writes, such houses were "a showcase of their power with sons in church, and gleaming paddy fields and coconut groves trimmed on the backs of sun-roasted tenants. Mundkars they called them."

Their monstrous upkeep when the colonial economy crumbled were to make them millstones around their owners' necks before once more becoming, in recent times, status symbols of the fashionably rich.

Quinta is one such vhodlem ghor which housed four generations of the family of Viegas, rich Chardos from Carmona in Salcete. An all-seeing narrator shows us through flashback how their comfortable world vanished before their very noses; how some fought back, and others ended up as flotsam and jetsam in the sea of humanity.

It describes the quirks and eccentricities of the overbearing bhatkars. Although it is a patriarchal system, in Quinta it is the scheming matriarch Mariquinha who is the powerhouse and there are dark hints of adultery -- as she grabs the reins of the Viegas household and sees that the Quinta properties remain intact when her husband Valerian Xavier is away in Africa; and murder -- when he returns home and her advocate-lover does him to death. She plots to make a man out of her youngest son Queirozito but ends up traumatizing him when a young boy.

There are an array of characters, some of whom spill over from the author's first novel. Thankfully a family tree provided at the beginning of the book helps keep track of them, so this novel stands on its own. To foreshadow the action, each of the four parts of the novel is framed by a commentary by Robbie, the latest owner of the Quinta property, and a painting by the author (Savia Viegas is also an artist with a Ph.D. in Ancient Indian Culture and Art).

The novel is dominated by women: Mariquinha of course -- but also her daughter-in-law Preciosa; and Preciosa's granddaughter-in-law California, the oddly-named amoral American adventuress whose eyes are on the Quinta property. Barring Queirozito, the male characters by contrast like Advocate Bruno, Ramon and Bamonn who impregnate the mestiao poskem Piedade; and Suraj (or Sun) and even Robbie,are vapid creatures.

Quinta works as political allegory and invites the reader to ponder upon questions such as: how and why was the power of the big houses chaffed out; how did former mundkars and tarvottis become powerful; and what were the mechanisms that
effected this power transfer.

Goans should be able to fill in the gaps: a bankrupt colony; Liberation and the Mundkar Act; the tarvotti and Gulfie supported money-order economy; tourism; and the influx of 'outsiders ... all of which are alluded to in the novel. Along with that is the emigration of menfolk, like Preciosa's grandson Suraj, to the West.

Viegas whose style veers towards that of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende reins in her penchant for magical realism in this book and sometimes annoyingly explains and translates local idiom and myth in R. K. Narayan fashion for the Penguin audience.

Towards the end the story gets a little maudlin, and in the best tradition of tiatr there is a change in the hearts of the bhatkars whose kind are now dwindling anyway: we find Preciosa bequeathing Quinta, and all the property that goes
with that, to Robby, a tarvotti who may or may not be related to the family.

Towards the end Robby declaims: "I don't know why I love this piece of land! It was not created by my kin. I was the bastard, the pariah bred by two generations and owned and bonded to none. But I simply love this land and know that as
its sole inheritor, if I don't protect it, who will?"

Will he succeed, surrounded as he is on all sides by land sharks? Perhaps we will have to wait for another novel to find the answer -- though it seems easy to guess.

Goa Times
December 21, 2011

Grand old house

Pantaleao Fernandes

Houses are like people, you live in them and they look beautiful; you neglect them and they wither and slump'. So says Savia Viegas from Carmona in her yet to be released novel, Let Me Tell You about Quinta. She is currently working on her next book which will complete the trilogy, the first being Tales from the Attic.

Quinta means a farmhouse in Portuguese. Savia offers a peep into the Quinta of her story, "A number of such houses sprung up post 1787 in the villages of South Goa. This novel is set in an old feudal house and looks at the hierarchy of relationships that keep the house in running condition. It has a terrifying matriarch keen to hold on to the rid order using cunning and devious ways, a freedom fighter who wants to break with the past, a beautiful servant girl and the black sheep of the family Tito whose emotional bond with the past makes him go to all levels to protect it."

Reminiscing about her writing jburney, Savia chatters excitedly, "I loved writing the book. It is perhaps an exercise one cannot repeat too many times. It had a very draining effect as well to live for a long time ihabiting the world of my characters. I would often resort to painting to allow the manic energy to be diverted. In fact my last exhibition of paintings was created when working on his novel. That is why my editor included a lot of my paintings within the body of the novel."

Savia has raised a very pertinent question about the 'Grand Old House' from Goa. She calls it an icon of a very feudal past. "I would not like to call it the Portuguese house that reference has cultural problems which stems from ignorance or simplistic view of the past. However, when we talk with nostalgia of the passing of a way of life, we only bemoan the eclipsing of the big house never referring to other factors that made the existence or, the big house possible."

She opines that the big houses are dinosaurs of the past for their owners for they require high maintenance, repairs for their size, required a certain way of life to maintain that aura of grandeur that went with it.

However there's a mad rush where almost every Delhiite and every Bombaywala wants to purchase a house in Goa. She says, "New buyers who have spare money want to actually buy the symbolic power associated with the Goan house. Because of its exotic terrain, its coastal belt which is so pristine, everyone wants their slice of this beauty because Goa is also in flavour. Owning a house here signifies notionally that you are wealthy have a certain lifestyle so on and so forth. Many of the people who own houses in Goa never live in them for years together, never open them up to the wind, rain and sun."

Savia herself lives in an old Goan house and has managed to put it to full and creative use. 'I have a modest old house and I think it is too big for the number of people who live here. So parts of the house are converted into public spaces. There are music classes and pre-primary classes happening from here. I am happy if I can provide for the village what it lacks then gladly my house is the place where this will happen."

In conclusion, Savia hits the nail on the head, "The old houses are certainly a beautiful legacy of the past. What I oppose is someone buying it restoring it fancifully and keeping it locked up."

Deccan Herald
March 4, 2012

Of quaint Goan culture

Payel Dutta Choudhury

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March 4, 2012

Sharmila Joshi

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Express Buzz
4 Feb., 2012

Shades of a past

Parvathi Ramkumar

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Live Mint
Feb 3 2012

Lays of the land

A veneer of fiction preserves a careful, if uneven, record of Goan agrarian life.

Matt Daniels

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