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Pub Date: Nov. 13th, 1972
ISBN: 0520047753
Publisher: Univ. of California Press

This novel first appeared in 1908, the year of Machado de Assis' death. The quiet part-Negro Assis, a bureaucrat who moved in high circles in Rio de Janeiro, has come to be recognized as one of the greatest 19th-century novelists. This work is a sequel to Esau and Jacob, again narrated by Ayres, but with far less psychological intensity. It is a mild story, mildly told with a muted form of irony, about a devoted old couple, Tristao, the godson who left them for Portugal, and a young widow cast off by her father for her marriage and adopted by the couple. The only unsympathetic character is Tristao, the young man, for whom Ayres' contempt is obliquely rendered. What passion there is obtains between the old couple and between them and their foster children, not between Tristao and the widow, Fidelia, whose love and eventual marriage remain at a distance. There is no real growth and development of the characters, but an expression of values -- generosity, truth, loyalty, with an interplay of worldliness but only a faint touch of Assis' Svevo-like cynicism. The narrator is infatuated with Fidelia but plays with his attachment as a manifestation of his reaching a certain age. The chief dramatic conflict comes with Tristao's recurrent betrayal of his godparents' trust and affection. There are many light, passing, stoical references to old age and death; a key word is ""velleity,"" impulse without action; it is, without self-pity, an elegiac book, scarcely Assis' most profound, but unmistakably the work of a masterful writer.