Posts Tagged ‘charco press’


January 13, 2022

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.

An Orphan World

September 28, 2019

Giuseppe Caputo’s An Orphan World, translated by Juana Adcock and Sophie Hughes, is a novel of juxtapositions. Each of its chapters tells of two different moments in the life of its narrator, alternating between each story. Caputo also places in contrast his character’s close relationship with his father and the often distant sexual exchanges which take place in his life as gay man. Finally, we find light and darkness in constant play across the narrative: the novel’s title, for example, originating in stories that the narrator’s father tells him of life on a different planet, “an orphan world with no sun, plunged into perpetual darkness.”

However, An Orphan World is, first of all, a tale of poverty:

“That’s how we lived, my dad and I, in that grey neighbourhood – a grey that was sometimes smoky, sometimes blackish – trapped in a cycle of poverty and never quite at peace.”

The father thinks up numerous schemes to make money – from charging to give people advice at the local bar (“The first piece is free, and from then on I charge.”) to using a tape recorder to pretend that their house is talking, a scam which backfires when they fail to open the door on time and everything on the tape plays ahead of the action. It is their lack of money which forces them to move to the section of town which is without any lights at night:

“I was terrified of the location, right in the heart of the dark zone – as it was called – which had no street lights at all, but the price was within what we could afford.”

Later, when their electricity is cut off because they cannot afford to pay the bill and they illegally reconnect it themselves, they are unable to put any lights on in the front of the house in case they are seen from the street. In many ways, their poverty can be seen as a journey into increasing darkness; however, light in the novel is not presented as the benevolent opposite.

The novel’s central event, overshadowing everything, is the mass murder of homosexuals, presumably on one night. We do not see the violence but are made fully aware of the horror in its aftermath:

“There, in the bar district, we came upon men with no heads: four or five bodies, floating from the neck down in their own lake. Beyond them, in a little heap, the chopped-up crimson flesh of a man (or several men) who’d been out dancing.”

Later, when a lorry appears to take the corpses away, even a policeman throws up at the sights illuminated by the headlights – including the severed heads which have been placed inside the street lights. It’s perhaps for this reason the narrator says at one point:

“So much light that, instead of illuminating the night or dissipating the darkness, it seemed to create them.”

This threat hangs over the narrator throughout – for example, when he is stopped by the police having gone out to look for food, one of them comments: “How come they didn’t kill this one, though?”

The narrator’s sex life is revealed in a refreshingly uncompromising manner. There are no ‘relationships’ but simply a series of sexual encounters. Some of these take place in a sex club he visits, others online. Caputo is particularly good at writing about the Roulette chatroom, and the narrator’s attitude to it:

“A hundred men in one; a stranger transforming into a hundred strangers.”

Later he says, “Sometimes I mistake my screen for the stranger’s”. The influence of the internet on sexual desire is clearly going to be an important topic for writers over the coming decades, and it’s exciting to see Caputo begin to explore this, though elements of voyeurism are also apparent at the sex club:

“I watched them, and I watched him watching them.”

That Caputo places this alongside the narrator’s loving relationship with his father illustrates that he is not emotionally empty – a cliché which is often present when a character indulges in sexual gratification outside of love. The narrator’s connection to his father is evident from the beginning, and Caputo often use language we would associate with a couple:

“With our arms around each other we went to his room…”


“I think about my dad, and go back to lie down beside him (‘beside him’ is code for spooning him).”

There is a beauty in their relationship that survives the ugliness which surrounds them.

An Orphan World is a novel which does things that not many other novels are doing. Its father / son relationship is one of love and companionship rather than tension and resentment; the narrator’s homosexuality is powerfully central to his story without overwhelming the narrative; and the ugliness of its poverty and violence is never quite victorious in the face of its human virtues. It would be a pity if it did not get the audience it deserves simply because of its sexual openness.