Page 21


The Cl u of 3111 >8DOM 9,1041001N14.41WWW, toonist whose observations on his fellow citizens’ foibles and follies appear regularly in a daily column inJornal do Brasil and in the national weekly, Veja. His work has been adapted for theater, cinema, and TV; he is the recipient of several awards, and The Club of Angels, a best seller in Brazil, was nominated for the 2002 Newstadt International Prize for Literature. In spite of his fame back home, this is his first novel to be translated into English. In ridiculing fashionable society and lives of privilege, he can be cutting and occasionally grotesque, but never savage and always very funny. When, for example, he describes the outcome of a business venture involving three of the “angels,” he writes, “We closed the agency, feeling misunderstood and misjudged, on the day that Saulo’s mini-bar went phut. Without ice, we concluded, we simply couldn’t go on.” Much like a Brazilian Evelyn Waugh,Verissimo impresses us with his ability to use language effectivelyMargaret Jull Costa’s smooth translation does justice to his mordant humor, and total lack of reverence.When a journalist once asked him whether gluttony continues to be a serious sin in this day and age, Verissimo replied, “Gluttony is the only sin that has inevitable physical consequences. It causes overweight and blocks the arteries. Thus, I find it to be the only sin that should be taken seriously” Daniel, his alter-ego and mouthpiece, is equally outspoken, capable of taking us by surprise with his refreshingly candid opinions. He is an amateur writer, who is seriously considering adapting his stories about the sexual frustrations of the unfortunate lesbian Siamese twins, Zenaide and Zulmina, into a book for children. As the Angel Club’s sole writer, the narrator believes the only reason he’s been allowed to survive for as long as he has is in order to record their history. In the course of that history, Verissimo never misses the opportunity to introduce some additional nuance or level of meaning: The Bible, for example, and Satyricon, an ancient tale, best known for its dinner party sequence, are alluded to throughout. Shakespeare also plays a prominent role: Each murder is followed by a quotation from King Lear. Why King Lear? Perhaps, the author is suggesting, Brazilians have no monopoly on greed, nor on the production of grasping, ungrateful little “angels.” The death of one grasping, ungrateful little “angel” after another provides him with ample opportunity to poke fun at society. While we may raise an eyebrow in disbelief at the book’s conclusion, Verissimo simply saunters past our objections. In other words, he gets away with murder. What stands him in good stead is his use of detail, straightforward language and total lack of sentimentality. The tone is so confiding, the disclosures so outrageous, the characters so unsympathetic, that as much as the author strains our credulity, we tend to believe he must be telling the truth. How could he make this all up? How can one not believe a narrator who is capable of admitting he is a cad, one who has lived a life of no purpose, and who openly declares the world would be no worse off without him? Indeed, there is something strikingly Latin about the narrator’s bravado, fatalism, and shouldershrugging nonchalance, as if taking life and death too seriously would simply require more energy than it is worth. As protagonist after protagonist is knocked off, we, the readers, are unlikely to feel much pain. After all, they are an unappetizing lotlazy, unethical, overindulged and self destructive or, in the words of the author: “We were bastards, yes, but great bastards, princely bastards.” Perhaps because we never fully believe in the characters, we never grow to despise them, and while they are grasping and unprincipled, they are, for the most part, likable scoundrels. \(In addition, how could you possibly despise a man who, prior to being poisoned, is capable of confessing: “Be honest, the deaths aside, have you ever eaten so well in your entire humor, one can only conclude that the “angels” might make delightful companionsbut only for dinner. \(And that, of Diana Anhalt is a poet and writer in Mexico City. She is the author of A Gathering of Fugitives: American Political Expatriates in Mexico 1948-1965 2/28/03 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 23