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MASTER OF THE SEA by José Sarney


by José Sarney translated by Gregory Rabassa

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-9707652-7-4

From the former president of Brazil, a picaresque epic of the sea.

Call me Captain, insists Antão Cristório, the legendary fisherman, but never on Fridays. Fridays are unlucky for him. It’s on a Friday, however, that we meet him first as he receives the terrible news that his son has been murdered, knifed in the back by a cuckolded husband. It’s on a Friday, also, that his beloved boat, Chita Verde, burns to cinders. Some in the tiny fishing village of Mojó ascribe the conflagration to arson, the work of an enemy—Cristório has his share—but the captain takes issue. Chita Verde has committed suicide, he moans guiltily, berating himself for a failure to love. It’s a busy life for our captain, after all, full of battling, loving, harrowing escapes, heroic achievement . . . and magic. Through intermingling flashbacks and flash-forwards, we follow him as he encounters ghosts, witches, demons, spells, jinxes and other magical manifestations. Columbus, Vasco da Gama and Captain Cook, for instance, pass briefly. His best friend remains 25 for 50 years, while his sweetheart yields her virginity to him and immediately vanishes—snatched by a pioco (sea monster), an event that presages a Grail-like quest to track down the offending imp. Over time, Captain Cristório marries, begets, befriends and, yes, betrays, but the constant is his intense, love-hate relationship with the sea. “The land belongs to God,” he tells a friend on one of his unlucky Fridays, “but the sea belongs to the Devil.”

First published in 1978 in Brazil, and much translated since, it’s a little as if Tom Jones had been leavened by a dash of Harry Potter.