A neat little discovery by mel u of The Reading Life: the 1921 Brazilian Tales, a pocket collection of six curious-to-good short stories. The link goes to Google Books, where the PDF scan is available; mel has links to the Gutenberg version. The book has three stories by the great Machado de Assis and three stories by writers new to me (these links go to mel's posts):
“The Vengeance of Felix” by José de Medeiros e Albuquerque, a rough tale of rough folk and rough revenge.
“The Pigeons” by Coelho Netto, terribly sad, a father’s angry response to the death of his child.
“Aunt Zeze’s Tears” by Carmen Dolores, also sad, in which an old maid gets her hopes up.
Hey, look at that, a woman writer! You won’t find any of them on the lists I made for the Portuguese Challenge, because I did not know of any.
Netto’s story is about indigenous laborers; the Medeiros e Albuquerque story is about urban working class characters. The description of the title character has a lot of energy:
Old Felix had followed his trade of digger in all the quarries that Rio de Janeiro possessed. He was a sort of Hercules with huge limbs, but otherwise stupid as a post. His companions had nicknamed him Hardhead because of his obstinate character. (opening lines)
I rarely emphasize the point, but these good post-Maupassant short stories have another use for me: they fill in some more of the background of turn of the century Brazil. What was life like there, what were people like? This is fiction, so watch your step, but maybe something like what these writers show me. For this purpose they are more useful than the stories of the more original writer, Machado de Assis.
“The Attendant’s Confession” is by the Machado de Assis I recognize, a cynical, dodging and weaving first-person story. A murderous act of anger is rewarded. The narrator is confessing to the murder, but why – and when? Similarly, “The Fortune-Teller” is as much concerned with its own structure as the world outside the story. And then there is “Life,” a hallucinatory dialogue between the Wandering Jew and Prometheus about the value of life and mankind which I did not really get, at least not until the punchline.
None of these Machado de Assis stories are in The Psychiatrist and Other Stories, the one collection I have read, but they may well be in The Devil’s Church and Other Stories or A Chapter of Hats: Selected Stories. I am amazed that there are three collections of Machado de Assis stories in English.
A good find by mel – thanks for that.