Peixoto offers an appealing addition to the genre of rural magical realism with his debut novel, winner of Portugal’s José Saramago Award.
Among the main figures in this panopticonic novel are José, a shepherd whose tranquility is shattered when, in his village tavern, “the devil” tells him he’s being cuckolded. Meanwhile two elderly brothers, Moisés and Elias, Siamese twins attached at one fingertip, have their lives and lifelong solitude together complicated when Moisés falls in love with and marries a cook, a virtuoso capable of producing, as a pointed message to her husband, a platter of spread legs made of potato and a steaming collard vagina that “slowly contracted before the brothers’ eyes” until it “irrevocably closed and dried up.” Another, later story line features a crippled and maimed carpenter who marries a blind prostitute. There’s no overarching plot, and the pleasures are mostly local: well-marshaled details, bravura scenes like the one in which Moisés dies from eating toxic mushrooms while Elias watches in anguish. The incursions of “magic” are light, deft, equivocal, and they read not as the plumage-showing of a talented writer but as an inherent feature of life in this remote, legend-haunted village. Is “the devil” simply another name for a priest? Yes and no. What sort of ceiling-scraping “giant” is José’s cuckold? Hard to say. The high-toned abstractness exemplified by the title can be a bit much, but overall this is a poignant debut.
Not for everyone: a slow-cooking stew that provides ample pleasure for the reader disinclined to scarf it down.