Seven tales from provincial Brazil make up Monteiro’s quaint, sparkling debut.
A strange, colorful fish discovered in an elderly wife’s outhouse latrine in arid Jatobá turns out to be a miraculous worker of miracles in the first story, “A Fish in the Desert.” Married 40 years without a child, Otália has been praying for one (while her husband has been praying for a glimpse of the ocean), but instead she finds a fish of radiant colors she names Saturnino. Despite the miracles it delivers, like curing her husband of his lameness, the fish is deemed cursed, and, afraid for its life at the hands of angry townspeople, Otália returns it to the sea for a final, loving baptism. The local priest who erroneously pronounced the fish divine appears in another story, “The Ecstasy of São Mercúrio,” as he journeys far away to a new parish in the Amazonian forest of Bororó. Here, innocent and well-meaning Padre Miguel Inácio confronts the chilling corruption of the master of the silver and gold mines, Boca de Ouro, who literally owns the souls of his workers and poisons the Padre with his evil. Yet another character touched by the fish returns, in “Ouroboros.” Having been cursed by the fish never to die, Uriel Augusto seeks out Pascoal the seer to perform the ultimate alchemy: the transformation into death. “Little Star of Bela Lua” tells of a rare famous woman troubadour, Estrelinha, who recounts how she nearly married the man who beat her in a repente duel (a kind of rhyming contest and guitar showdown), except that he never claimed his prize. Another homespun tale, “Curado,” involves a country doctor’s history of having been bitten by a viper, marking him as a friend to snakes forever, despite the misgivings of his pregnant fiancée.
Full of the smells and cadences of the old country, these are pleasant, whimsical tales with personality and a gentle-pedaling Christian message.