Disclaimer: I received an advance reader's copy (ARC) of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, and no monetary compensation was received for this review.
The book is due to be published on June 5, 2014 (Dalkey Archive Press).
It’s always with some trepidation that I start reading Tavares’s work. I might discover that what I fear the most is learning about myself... This time there was no danger of that happening. I knew beforehand the dangers that awaited me.
"A Man: Klaus Klump" by Gonçalo M. Tavares is not a kind book. It's bitter and full of violence, namely of sexual nature. It's a novel loaded with meaning, truth and reason. What more can one ask of a novel?
This is my 4th review of a novel By Gonçalo M. Tavares. I've read this particular novel in the original (in Portuguese) a long time ago. At the time I didn't know what would happen to Gonçalo in the literary world.
This novel, along with Jerusalem (see review here:
http://antao.booklikes.com/post/606388/jerusalem-o-reino-3-), are both very different from his other work, namely his novels belonging to the "The Neighborhood's" ("O Bairro" in the original) collection (see review here:
In my mind his masterpiece so far is still "Learning to Pray in the Age of Technology" ("Aprender a Rezar na Era da Técnica" in the original: see review here
"A Man: Klaus Klump" belongs to the "O Reino" (“The Kingdom”, formerly “Black Books”) collection. This novel is quite different from everything I've ever read from him. It uses a very fragmented style, where we move from one POV to another even in the same chapter (quite similar to what happens in "Jerusalem"). Here the fragmentation is even more pronounced. I had to play close attention to where the text was taking me. But these fragmented changes are what make the novel so appealing, inviting reflection. Language-wise is where the novel shines. Tavares' typical narrative technique is on full display here. He describes everything in a way only he is able to: ironic, different and perceptive.
I'll just mention three examples.
In the first example notice how Gonçalo describes the simple act of putting the main character's hands in his pockets:
"Klaus's Hands are in his pockets. What a strange gesture, to hide his hands in his pockets. Hands and eyes are the foundation of war: without hands it's impossible to hate; you hate through your fingertips, as if your fingers were the sole, habitual conduit for a certain evil chemical substance. Putting your hands in your pockets is a process by which you tame your hatred, a slow process when compared to that much more powerful method that is amputation of your arms. But only by putting their hands in their pockets do men grow calm."
(in the original in Portuguese: "As mãos no bolso de Klaus. Como era estranho seu gesto de esconder as mãos nos bolsos. As mãos e os olhos eram o fundamento da guerra: sem mãos é impossível odiar, odeias pela ponta dos dedos, como se estes fossem o canal habitual e único de uma certa substância química má. As mãos nos bolsos são um processo de educar o ódio, processo lento quando comparado com aquele bem mais forte que é a ambutação dos braços. Mas só com as mãos nos bolsos os homens já acalmam").
In the second example see how he's able to elevate the fragmentation effect:
"My mother had seven children. Five died. The other one is a teacher. He has an illness. He could never be a soldier. If I had an illness I wouldn't be a soldier either. We discussed everything together, my brother and I. We shared books with each other. Up until we were sixteen we read the exact same books, but ever since he was a child he had a cough.
We only parted ways because of the war. I joined the army and he stayed home, ill. Since the start of the war we began to read different books. I have no idea what kinds of books he reads now."
(in the original in Portuguese: "A minha mãe teve sete filhos. Morreram cinco. O outro é professor. É doente. Não podia ser soldado. Se eu fosse doente também não seria soldado. Sempre andámos juntos, eu e o mei irmão. Passámos livros um ao outro. Até aos dezasseis anos lemos exactamente os mesmos livros, mas ele desde criança que tossia.
Só nos separámos com a guerra. Fui para o exército e ele ficou em casa, doente. A partir do ínicio da guerra começámos a ler livros diferentes. Já não faço ideia dos livros que ele lê.")
In the third example, we see Tavares in full narrative splendour:
"With his hands in his pockets, a man understands that he is not God. He no longer reaches for things. If you touch the world with your head, you'll obtain, from this touch, secondary feelings, sensations of minimal intensity distanced from those to which your hands have accustomed you. Your hands make you more intense. How obscene-yes, that very thing-how obscene is the man who, during wartime, even during a pause in the action, provocatively puts his hands in his pockets. To admit that you are not God while a war's on is a courageous act and, as strange as it may seem, the only divine act. Only cowards pretend that they're God.
(in the original in Portuguese: "Com as mãos nos bolsos um homem percebe que não é Deus. Não se chega às coisas. Se tocares no mundo com a cabeça obterás desse toque sentimentos secundários; afastados de uma intensidade mínima a que a existência das mãos te habituou. As mãos tornam-te intenso. O obsceno - isso mesmo -, o obsceno que é o homem na guerra, mesmo que numa pausa, põe provocadoramente as mãos nos bolsos. Assumir que não se é Deus em momento de guerra é acto corajoso, e por estranho que pareça, o único divino. Só os cobardes fingem que são Deus.)
This is a book about many things, but mainly about strength.
The above-mentioned passages alone justify reading the novel, but just read the all thing. It's one hell of a ride.
Also worth mentioning is the excellent translation by Rhett McNeil. For me the first characteristic of an excellent translation is, quite obviously, its faithfulness to the source text, ie, faithfulness comes first and beauty comes second. In that regard the translation is quite magnificent. It was able to mimic some of the sentence structures from the Portuguese, which is not an easy thing to do.