by João Cerqueira [translated from the Portuguese by Karen Bennett and Chris Mingay)
"A novel," it says on the front of the book, "alternative history," it says on the back--and who am I to quibble over such a contradictory pair of descriptions? Lightweight but frequently laugh out loud funny novelization of the history of the surprisingly little known war between JFK and Castro that was mediated by Fátima, Jesus, and, in a scene-stealing cameo, the devil. While the garish cover and a couple of translation infelicities (the expression "hawks and doves" is repeatedly translated as "falcons and doves," the modern U.S. poor are apparently unironically referred to as "peasants," both of which sound strange to these yanqui ears) probably don't do novelist João Cerqueira any favors, that's too bad because the guy's comedic sensibilities deserve a wider audience--although perhaps the less said about the absurdist plot the better. Still, it's hard to complain about the gentle ribbing that the bearded characters Castro ("He was always a crook, a hypocrite. Why does he have a beard in that tropical climate?" ) and Christ ("He sat down for his first supper since his last" ) take from the clean-shaven Cerqueira or about the medieval barber like bloodletting perpetrated on Castro's Cuba ("Pharmacies empty of medicine, attesting to exemplary levels of public health" ) and on churchgoers suffering under "the stony gaze of the malevolent beings imprisoned in the granite of the church walls" ("Resigned, they left the church with little will to reflect upon why some lambs were mystical while others were roasted in the oven with jacket potatoes" ). For readers who like to mix their political satire with their theological satire, there's also a nice two-paragraph disquisition on how "the second coming of Christ was different from the first [other than] that it occurred in another historical period." Among the similarities: "Women continued to have more faith than men despite being excluded from religious functions; the many religions never agreed on the majority of metaphysical and political matters, despite being in agreement that sex is a great sin; [...] prodigal sons returned home when their money ran out." Among the differences: "People now fled by plane instead of by donkey; [...] the price of treason was below thirty coins; [...] and people now considered cousins and siblings to be different from each other" (125-126, ellipses added).
Thanks to the author and his publisher for providing a review copy of what was often a very amusing book. To keep the Portuguese comedy/realism theme rolling, I'm happy to note that I'll be reading Eça de Queiroz's 1878 Cousin Bazilio [O Primo Basílio] next.