domingo, 6 de octubre de 2013

The Tragedy of Fidel Castro

The Tragedy of Fidel Castro [A tragédia de Fidel Castro] (River Grove Books, 2012)
by João Cerqueira [translated from the Portuguese by Karen Bennett and Chris Mingay)
Portugal, 2008

"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?" [162]) and Christ ("He sat down for his first supper since his last" [134]) 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" [21]) 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" [67]).  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).

João Cerqueira
 
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.

8 comentarios:

  1. Looks like I have another book to add to my shopping list. Thanks for the great review.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Richard. However, it was a very funny read so the only complicated thing about the review was figuring out which quotes to choose from and which to leave out. No greatness needed for that!

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  2. This sounds suspiciously blasphemous : ) You are not allowed to laugh out loud, you know.

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    1. The preface points out that all of the characters except for maybe Castro were fictional creations, Séamus, so neither the novelist nor I need to suffer any blasphemy charges for laughing out loud at the often reprehensible behavior of these imaginary beings. In related news, I'm just glad Cerqueira didn't make fun of my beloved Zeus!

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  3. Mein Lieber Herr Richard: Usted perdone que éste su Herr Graf haga una referencia bibliográfica dentro que poco tiene que ver con las andanzas de ese comunista al cual hace referencia el libro por usted, por otra parte, siempre tan bien referenciado, válgame dicha inventada palabra teutónica..., pues eso... como últimamente éste su Herr Graf está más clásico que nunca, quería preguntarle a usted por la EDICIÓN ( en mayúsculas hispánicas de las buenas ) de referencia que todo buen lector de "Don Quijote De La Mancha" de Herr Cervantes, debería leer; esto es, una pulcra y excelsa edición de tan magnánima obra con pies de página e índices aclaratorios que hagan más amena y aclaratoria dicha lectura y todo ello en una exquisita edición en tapa dura?... y es que aunque parezca mentira no parece dicho asunto baladí, pues uno se encuentra con ediciones pésimas, abrevidadas o excesivamente académicas....por lo tanto y teniendo en cuenta su exquisita experiencia bibliófila ¿sería usted tan amable de recomendarle a éste su Herr Graf acerca de una edición que reúna tantas exquisiteces dignas de un conde teutón?... Desde luego si usted finalmente lo consigue, sería usted agasajado con una visita de cortesía al Schloss para tomar el té, aunque eso sí, el té lo tendría usted que traer que traer de su casa, lo mismo que acontecería con las susodichas pastas de acompañamiento de dicho brebaje...

    Herr Graf Ferdinand Von Galitzien

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    1. Mi estimado Herr Graf:

      Recibí su mensaje aristocrático con gran placer y no poco orgullo al darme cuenta que es poco común recibir noticias aristocráticas entre la gente humilde de este rincón de la blogósfera. En todo caso, me alegra recomendarle la edición de Don Quijote de la Mancha de Miguel de Cervantes editada por el sabio Martín de Ríquer y publicada por la Editorial Juventud en Barcelona en el año teutónico de 2003. Creo que superará todas sus expectativas en cuanto a los criterios nombrados con la única excepción que viene en una tapa blanda o rústica en vez de una tapa dura "exquisita". De todos modos, gracias por la invitación de pagarle a usted una visita de cortesía al Schloss algún día. Hasta entonces, ¡un saludo muy cordial!

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  4. I tend to like absurdist novels.As I am particularly interested in both politics and religion this seems very much up

    The translations issues almost sound as if they are part of the parody.

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    1. Brian, I got a chuckle out of what you said about the translation issues being "part of the parody." That would almost be too good to be true!

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