Portuguese American Journal

Book | A History of Water | by Edward Wilson-Lee – Editor’s Note

The stories of Damião de Góis and Luís de Camões capture the extraordinary wonders that awaited Europeans on their arrival in India and China, the challenges these marvels presented to longstanding beliefs, and the vast conspiracy to silence the questions these posed about the nature of history and of human life.

A History of Water follows the interconnected lives of two men across the Renaissance globe. One of them – an aficionado of mermen and Ethiopian culture, an art collector, historian and expert on water-music – returns home from witnessing the birth of the modern age to die in a mysterious incident, apparently the victim of a grisly and curious murder. The other – a ruffian, vagabond and braggart, chased across the globe from Mozambique to Japan – ends up as the national poet of Portugal.


“Wilson-Lee’s point is that we all need to be a bit more De Góis and a bit less De Camões. Employing prose as luscious as it is meticulous, Wilson-Lee shows us the world through De Góis’s eyes, a wonderful tapestry that includes Ethiopians and Sami, Hieronymus Bosch (he owned three of the master’s fever-dream paintings) and elephants that can write in dust with their trunks. In 1531 De Góis was hugely affected by an audience he had with Martin Luther in Wittenberg when the great man’s wife served him hazelnuts and apples. There was a point to the meal’s simplicity that went beyond grandiose self-denial. Luther believed that the obsession with international capitalism, which brought spices and other exotic delicacies pouring into Europe, was pointless and wasteful. Shopping locally and growing your own (Mrs Luther had a very nice kitchen garden) was the righteous way to go.” Kathryn Hughes –The Guardian

“This exhilarating and whip-smart book…presents two competing visions of global history through the lives of two Portuguese travellers…This book is itself something of a wonder: beautifully written and utterly mesmerising. I loved every page.” Jessi ChildsThe Sunday Times


About the Author

Edward Wilson-Lee is an author of books on the history of literature, libraries, and travel. He lives in Cambridge, where he teaches literature at Sidney Sussex College, part of the University of Cambridge. A History of Water has been named a 2022 Book of the Year in the Times, The Sunday Times, Prospect Magazine, and the Times Literary Supplement.

Book review: “Edward Wilson-Lee’s book delves into history of Portuguese colonialism in Asia and more.” Krishnan Srinivasan – N’ne News


Book Details

Title: A History of Water

Author: Edward Wilson-Lee

Publisher: William Collins

Publication Date: August 4, 2022

Language: English

Hardcover: 352pp

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