[Goanet-News] Romancing Portuguese Goa (Claudia by Sophia Lorena Benjamin)
Frederick Noronha
2018-07-22 23:29:35 UTC

Romancing Portuguese Goa

There is much that is good about Sophia Lorena Benjamin’s debut novel,
Claudia, a historical romance set Goa.

Published: 22nd July 2018 05:00 AM

By Madhavi S Mahadevan
Express News Service

There is much that is good about Sophia Lorena Benjamin’s debut novel,
Claudia, a historical romance set Goa. The early 1960s was a critical
chapter in history: the Indian government was trying to liberate Goa from
colonial rule. Bridges were being blasted, the airport had been bombarded,
there was an economic blockade and Goans were cut off from the outside
world. Finally, on December 19, 1961, the Indian Army marched into the
enclave and ended four-and-a-half centuries of Portuguese Raj.

This is the backdrop for the romance that develops between Claudia, a
servant girl who works for a wealthy Portuguese couple, and Damiano, the
scion of the family. Claudia lives in the picturesque village of Oroshim.
‘Winding pathways and rich hues of red mud laced the suburban lanes where
bougainvillea and hibiscus flowers bloomed wild.’ Her family has fallen
into bad times. The father is an alcoholic, the two older sisters have
ruined their reputation by their pre-marital liaisons. Claudia’s
grandmother is hopeful that she will marry well and retrieve the family

The narrative constantly weaves in details of rural life. This is the
landscape of cashew trees, rice paddies, coconut groves, beaches, fishing
boats, the fish market, the liquor bars with ‘curious sounding Portuguese
names: Casa de Antok, Caravela, Rosa Tavern, Sol e Pesca…. The bars
provided a welcome abode for the rain-drenched, hardworking, cold and wet
men to huddle together and indulge in moments of unhindered, simple luxury’.

The surplus of ethnographic information brings atmosphere to the novel, but
it also thins the storyline to vanishing point. While Claudia is a fairly
well-developed protagonist, her lover Damiano remains a cardboard cut-out.
Apart from giving her subtle smiles and slipping notes about pre-dawn
assignations in haystacks, he does not play a role, probably because this
is not a serious affair anyway.

Meanwhile, time is a ticking bomb for the Portuguese. A return to Portugal
is clearly on the cards and Damiano’s folks too lock up their mansion and
leave. Claudia, who has nowhere to go, is engaged to Piedad Ferrao,
regarded as a ‘catch’. At the very last minute, Damiano turns up and asks
her to run away with him to Portugal where they can be together, but with
the caveat that she will have to be a servant to his family, just like

What does Claudia choose? With a richness of historical detail, the novel
has something in it, but an underdeveloped plot and abysmal editing ensures
that it does not quite deliver on its promise.