NINE main islands make up the Azores; the 10th so-called “island” of the archipelago is the diaspora created by emigration after natural and political disasters ranging from volcanic eruptions to intellectual oppression and physical starvation under the rule of Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar.
Around the world communities of expatriate Azoreans thrive – nowhere more robustly than in the Central Valley of California, the fruit-and-vegetable-bowl of the US and one of the country’s most productive dairying regions thanks to farmers who originated in the Azores.
Now an autonomous region of Portugal, the Azores remain a haven for these loyal natives, many of whom fly in when possible to spend at least part of the northern summer socialising “back home”.
In this memoir Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Diana Marcum becomes acquainted with a cross-section of Atlantic-born Portuguese-Americans while writing for a regional newspaper in the valley and for the Los Angeles Times.
A brief initial visit to the rural island of Terceira fuels Marcum’s appetite so powerfully that it is inevitable she will one day return for a much longer stay.
The resulting year in a small agricultural village on Terceira’s northern coast allows Marcum to resurrect friendships founded a decade earlier and provides rich detail for this personal portrait of an island group that manages to balance an optimistic present and future with an intense respect for a deeply traditional past.
At the same time Marcum explores issues within her own life, including unfulfilling relationships and a career that has not always followed an outwardly clear trajectory.
With irreverence and humour, sensitivity and passion, she documents the personalities, practices and predicaments that set the distinctive people of Terceira apart as they dodge bellowing bulls, lament lost love, impress with newfound Californian prosperity, savour chewy shellfish and revere crusty home-delivered bread.