Fans of Garcia Marquez, Borges, and Cortazar will love this hilarious, boozy little gem called THE DOUBLE DEATH OF QUINCAS WATER-BRAY by Brazilian author Jorge Amado. Published on the 100th anniversary of Amado’s birth, Penguin Classics has released this version of Amado’s masterpiece with a new translation by legendary literary man Gregory Rabassa and a new introduction by Rivka Galchen.
Followers of The Literary Man might remember previous posts in which we celebrated Gregory Rabassa and his genius. We’re something like his biggest fans. When we met and spoke with him, Rabassa admitted that he was still actively translating, but, in his self-deprecating fashion, he didn’t admit that he had two brand new translations forthcoming. This book by Amado is one of them, along with a second text by Amado which we’ll be reviewing in the days to come. In his memoir IF THIS BE TREASON, Rabassa speaks affectionately of Jorge Amado, as the two collaborated on many projects before Amado’s death in 2001. Amado was popular and successful during his lifetime, though he remains relatively obscure to most American readers today. If you’re tired of reading the same old stories about suburban decay or bearded hipsters writing novels about themselves in Brooklyn, it’s time to book a fictional flight down to Brazil and get out of your literary comfort zone.
Rabassa’s genius as a translator brings this slender volume to life, taking Amado’s gritty, comedic story and rendering into an accessible, artful English prose. I had never read Amado before picking up THE DOUBLE DEATH OF QUINCAS WATER-BRAY, and I was pleasantly surprised by the following realization: the book is hilarious. It’s neither too slight nor too breezy, though it’s only a nugget-like seventy pages. We must consider it a novella for its brevity, and its three-act structure, but all-in-all this is a form we too often neglect as writers and readers.
In Act One, we learn of Joaquim Soares da Cunha’s death. Amado gives us some backstory about da Cunha’s background, his job as a civil servant, his doting, if stuffy and restrictive family, and we witness this family’s reaction to da Cunha’s death. Some of the family members are relieved, as we learn that da Cunha had in recent years absconded from his proper family and taken up with whores and gamblers and other ne’er-do-wells along the Bahian cost. We learn through the family’s complaints that da Cunha became a notorious whore-hungry boozehound beloved by all of Bahia’s slumdwellers, who renamed him Quincas Water-Bray.
Act Two shifts to Quincas’ friends (perspective floats around in this text, but not to any degree that deprives the book of its pleasure), who have learned of his death and are shocked to hear that he died in bed, as opposed to having set himself on fire, drunken himself to death, or died in the throes of sexual ecstasy. Quincas is clearly a leader to this gang of ruffian rejects (all of whom are far more loveable to the reader than Quincas’ family). Refusing to believe in their friend’s “normal” death, they set out to reclaim his corpse. And this is where things go crazy.
Act Three proceeds with the literary equivalent of a slapstick comedy, although I’m sure there’s a better way to describe things that are funny because they involve a human corpse. Necro-comedy? Necrohilarity? Yes. Exactly. This book is necrohilarious. It’s not funny because it’s slapstick. It’s funny because the things that happen to Quincas’ body are completely unexpected–things you wouldn’t expect to find in literature, things I hope my friends do for me someday when they find me dead in my parents’ upstairs guest room. Took me less than two hours to read from start to finish, and while entertaining still manages some swift, apt portraiture of costal Brazil in the 1950s. Major literary man points to any reader who can casually mention Amado’s name in cocktail conversation in the same breath as Garcia Marquez and Cortazar, for he certainly belongs among those titans. Look for part two of this review, in which we tackle Amado’s other book translated release in the days to come.
Here’s the link to this book at Powells.
Submitted by @stremainenelson