The Portuguese novelist António Lobo Antunes discovered his literary vocation while delivering babies, performing amputations, and carving up corpses. Lobo Antunes trained as a doctor, and in the early nineteen-seventies, during military service, he was dispatched to Angola, near the end of a futile war in which the faltering Portuguese empire grappled to retain its African colony. In a makeshift infirmary, he lopped off limbs while a queasy quartermaster—disqualified from operating because the sight of blood made him sick—turned away and recited instructions from a textbook. Lobo Antunes also assisted a witch doctor who presided over births. As he recalls in a new volume of essays and short stories, “The Fat Man and Infinity” (translated by Margaret Jull Costa; Norton; $26.95), he spent hours struggling “to pull living babies from half-dead mothers” and sometimes emerged into the daylight “holding in my hands a small tremulous life,” while mango trees rustled overhead and mandrills looked on. At such moments, he came “closest to what is commonly known as happiness.” The experience brought about a novelist’s epiphany. There was another way, Lobo Antunes saw, to fill the world with extra existences: characters could emerge fully formed from their creator’s brain, rather than making their blood-smeared escape from the womb.