Hi. This is my first CBR and the first review I write. And by forces of a destiny in which I do not believe, this review is about the second book I read from the Portuguese writer Valter Hugo Mãe, almost 4 years after the first, A máquina de fazer espanhóis (The Spanish making machine, my translation) made me cry copiously for 3 hours, even while eating a hot dog. A wet hot dog, by the way. It was a book so intense that I made a vow never to read Valter Hugo Mãe again, for fear of feeling such destructive sentiments that they would make me cry copiously again. I still have the last phrase of that book burnt inside my chest, even though I have never touched it anymore.
Facing my fears, after a long time, I read a second book by this writer: O filho de mil homens (The son of a thousand men, my translation). A completely different book, more positive perhaps, but not less visceral.
It is the story of a fisherman desperate to have a child, who believes that only a child will make him complete. He even, in his desperation, asks everyone in the village, if they know any child in search of a father. Until one day he opens up to the universe, talking about his desire. That same day, at work, he discovers there was a new fisherman on the boat: a 14-year-old boy who has just become an orphan and now needs a job to survive. Immediately, the fisherman smiles and asks the boy if he wants to be his son. The boy accepts and the fisherman becomes like that, complete. After a time of happiness, the boy suggests that the father needs a wife, in which the fisherman argues that he is already complete and the son tells him that with a wife he can be twice as complete. The fisherman thinks about it and decides to try, talking again to the universe. When he looks out the window he sees a woman sitting on the sand talking to herself. And he smiles.
I know that this brief introduction seems drawn from a children’s fable. And the way the writer puts poetry in prose sent me to fantastic tales indeed. However, even with the fable narrative, the book addresses much more difficult topics. After establishing our main character and his unshakeable hope, the writer leads us through short chapters with stories of different people who, even broken by pain and suffering, and despite so much prejudice, overcome hate, being able to form something better: a loving family that accepts them.
The myriad of characters he creates to show us how an intolerant and mean society shatters anyone who is different, is incredible. He tells how the lives of these personages are transformed by the hatred, false piety and absolutism of people who call themselves good and civilized. The narrative form evokes the community in its interference with the individual. At different moments it reminded me my family’s meetings, in which conversations arose with the same purpose of judgment.
In addition to our dreamy character, for example, the writer presents a little woman, who is seen by the women of the village as unhappy, due to her physical condition. They treat her with grief and indulgence, always resorting to her to put their own lives in perspective, always leaving her house with a heart full of goodness made. However, when they discover that the little woman, is pregnant, and the father of the child could be 15 different men, the village turns against her, for stealing their husbands and dare to act as a woman …
Without revealing much, there are other characters in the story: the woman subjugated by her sexuality, the man who was beaten because of his femininity, the mother who wished she had killed her son as a child…
It is a story about suffering and prejudice, about what each individual is expected to do within society, and how society doesn’t accept what does not fit into its mold.
The delicate form as the writer narrates even the most brutal passages, like a lynching, hit me deep. But, at the end, not in a sad and pessimistic way, because I do not believe that this is the message of the book.
Crisóstomo, our main character, is a simple person with the sole intention of having a child and being able to love that child. He is not exasperated because the kid is not the way he dreamed, because he did not create an expectation of how the child would be. He just wanted to love someone so deeply, that he would fill the hole within himself. When the family grows larger than the son, the wife, and the husband of the wife, and the mother of the husband of the wife, and the adopted daughter of the mother of the husband of the wife… he does not despair, nor with the size, nor with the people uniqueness. He accepts them, because his complete happiness can be double, triple… it can always reach more people.
Being open-hearted, unarmed, a better person. This is it.
Then Crisóstomo stood up, crossed the room and got out to see Camilo lying down, gave him a kiss to sleep and told him: never limit love, son, never out of prejudice, you should limit love. The kid asked, “Why do you say that, Father?” The fisherman replied: because it is the only way you too can one day feel twice what you are.
Disclaimer: This was not only my first review, but my first review in English. So, I apologize for any mistakes and crimes against the language that I have made, inadvertently.
Reading Info: Valter Hugo Mãe is a contemporary Portuguese writer, winner of the literary prize José Saramago, in 2007. The version I read is the Brazilian edition of the book, by the publisher Cosac & Naify. There was no translation, even if Portuguese from Portugal is slightly different from Brazil. Unfortunately, there is not an English edition for any of his books.