Having focused on the violence of men against women in Dead Girls, in Brickmakers (again translated by Annie McDermott) Selva Almada turns her ruthless gaze to the violence of men against men. The novel centres of a feud which runs from father to son. The fathers, Tamai and Miranda, are both brickmakers but their dislike of each other does not begin as a business rivalry; in fact, its origins are unclear, an argument in a bar in which “they faced each other in the stale air, eyes bloodshot and fists ready to land.” Friends pull them apart, but later Tamai takes a puppy from Miranda – a racing dog, a “future champion”:

“Swiping the puppy was Tamai’s way of bringing that old grudge up to date.”

Miranda gives up his claim to the dog asking only that Tamia look after it, but instead he neglects it:

“Skinny, chained to a post in the yard, tongue hanging out on those days when the heat cracks the earth.”

Eventually Estela, Miranda’s wife, kills the dog to end her husband’s torment, but Tamai blames Miranda and they fight. The rage which drives them is not theirs alone, nor is it only occasioned by their hatred of each other. After the fight, when Tamai decides to focus on supporting his family, he replaces one anger with another:

“Remembering his old grudge against his father-in-law dampened his anger at Miranda.”

However, when Miranda is murdered, Tamai is also affected, and not only because he is, for a time, a suspect: “His old quarrel with Miranda was an affirmation of himself.” Soon after this, he leaves his family.

As children, Tamai’s son, Pajaro, and Miranda’s son, Marciano, are friends, though puzzled that they are banned from going to each other’s houses. Later, when they drift apart, they blame each other – “deep down they both bore a grudge” – and by adolescence they are sworn enemies:

“By then he and Marciano hated each other so much that they’d forgotten they were ever friends.”

They, too, are filled with rage. As the novel opens, his younger brother Angel watches Marciano dress:

“He had the urge to spin round and bring the belt in his hand down hard on the boy’s back…”

This rage has existed in him since childhood, for example when his brother is first born:

“But his emotions were all over the place: sometimes he felt an irrepressible love for the newborn, and other times, an equally irrepressible desire to smash him against the floor.”

In Pajaro much of his anger is directed at his father: “One day his body will be big enough for the fury he has lived with all his life.” By the time he is a man, however, his father has gone. Conversely, Marciano feels he must avenge Miranda’s death:

“…he had to avenge his father’s death… he carried it with him every day of his life.”

To some extent, however, they are simply looking for a cause for the rage within them. The climactic confrontation between Pajaro and Marciano occurs ‘off-stage’; both lie dying as the novel begins, and we will return to their last moments throughout. Marciano sees the ghost of his father, and Pajaro also has a dying conversation with Tamai. The source of the confrontation is Pajaro’s relationship with Angel. Angel’s reputation as a ‘fag’ is already a threat to Marciano’s machismo:

“It made Marciano’s blood boil when people came to him with stories about his brother.”

It also threatens Pajaro’s view of himself. After the first time he decides, “he had to go out and right away and pick up a chick,” but the relationship continues. Both homophobia and self-loathing play a part, therefore, in the violence between them, but their rage is a force in itself, reducing the men to little more than animals. Tamai and Miranda are “like two fighting dogs”; when Miranda is murdered, he is “killed like a dog.” In an early scene, Marciano sees his father kill one of his dogs after he is injured – “being crippled was not a fit end for a champion.” In a sense the dog has lost his ‘manhood’, his dignity, just like the dog Estela later kills, and, for these men, death is preferable.

Brickmakers is another outstanding novel from Almada who seems unafraid to look into the darkest aspects of human nature. It’s a novel in which even its most unpleasant characters are in some way victims, but, like Dead Girls, it identifies the problems without offering much hope of solutions.

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5 Responses to “Brickmakers”

  1. JacquiWine Says:

    It sounds unflinching, Grant, but probably too brutal and violent for me (especially given what you’ve said about the dog at the beginning of your piece). I’m open to trying this author at some point, largely because you and Max rate her so highly, but I’ll have to pass on this one. Some things are too painful to read about (even for me)…

    • 1streading Says:

      I would start with her first novel, The Wind that Lays Waste, which doesn’t have the violence of her other two with the conflicts playing out in dialogue.

  2. Tony Says:

    Keen to try this after enjoying her first two in English 🙂

  3. Booker International Predictions 2022 | 1streading's Blog Says:

    […] surely too off the wall even compared to the first two parts of her ‘involuntary’ trilogy. Both Brickmakers by Selva Almada (translated by Annie McDermott) and Elena Knows by Claudia Pineiro (translated by […]

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