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The Crossing by Luis Cardoso

The Crossing: A Story of East Timor - Luís Cardoso, Margaret Jull Costa, Jill Jolliffe

This book’s chief merit is that it is set in East Timor. If, like me, you are doing a world books challenge, or if you have a particular interest in that country, that is not inconsequential, because there are very few options. Unfortunately, there’s nothing about its content or style to recommend it.


Luis Cardoso grew up in East Timor under Portuguese rule, lived in various places around the country and attended various schools, until around the time the country became independent; he was off to study in Portugal on scholarship before the subsequent Indonesian invasion. This book purports to be his memoir, though we learn little about the author and his life; he spends much more time on random information about the lives of people whose connection to him is unclear (many of whom turned out to be political figures, apparently), and describing the political situation in ways that do little to elucidate for those not already familiar with East Timorese history.


Because the hallmarks of The Crossing are a lack of focus – jumping between seemingly unrelated ideas even within a single paragraph – and a lack of clarity, it’s often difficult to tell just what the author is trying to communicate. The attempts at figurative language only hinder that project. Take for instance: “He went back to reading the big dictionary to decipher the words heard over the crackling radio, as if they were coffee beans defecated by a palm civet.” What? What does a palm civet (whatever that is) defecating coffee beans (as they do?) have to do with looking up unfamiliar words in the dictionary, and/or the sound of the radio? Do palm civets make crackling sounds when they defecate? Is looking up unfamiliar words being compared to poking through scat to see what animals have been eating? Who knows? Figurative language is supposed to aid readers’ understanding, not distract us with bizarre and nonsensical comparisons.


If you do need to read a book set in East Timor, The Crossing does have one additional merit: it is short, at 152 pages with generous margins and spacing. That’s the best I can say for it.