Pensive novel of political terror and its consequences, set in the shadow of post-junta Brazil.
Born in 1961, just in time to experience the military dictatorship for herself, Bracher turns out a somber slice-of-life narrative centering on a professor who, after a long career in education, is preparing to leave the academy, sell his house, and move to the countryside. Gustavo knows that when he leaves his home, “a developer will tear it down, like all the other old homes nearby.” It doesn’t matter, for he lives in his mind, and there he faces incapacitating guilt over the death of his late wife’s brother, arrested with him as student activists in 1970. “Look, I was tortured,” he protests, “and they say I snitched on a comrade who was later killed by soldiers’ bullets.” Protest as he might that he didn’t do it, that he didn’t talk, Gustavo worries endlessly at his responsibility for Armando’s death—and the death of his grieving wife afterward, “without ever finding out that I’d said what I never said.” Scarred by his experiences in prison, Gustavo has scarcely dared profess a political view since; in fact, he confesses, he is retiring from his job “out of cowardice,” precisely to avoid getting caught up in a revolt against changes in the very pension system that will provide his keep even as he is cheated out of part of it. He protests further: “I was never a revolutionary, never participated in the enthusiasm.” He protests, in the end, too much, and the reader is left to mistrust a narrator who has rationalized for half a century that his comrade and friend, though not deserving death, brought his fate on himself. Bracher’s story turns in on itself, revisiting those long-ago moments from the point of view of an old, tired man consumed by the deeds and misdeeds of youth.
A slender but memorable contribution to the literature of crime and (sometimes self-inflicted) punishment.