Blood-Drenched Beardby Daniel Galera
—So why did they kill him?
—I’m getting there. Patience, tchê. I wanted to give you the context. Because it’s a/b>
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From Brazil’s most acclaimed young novelist, the mesmerizing story of how a troubled young man’s restorative journey to the seaside becomes a violent struggle with his family’s past
—So why did they kill him?
—I’m getting there. Patience, tchê. I wanted to give you the context. Because it’s a good story, isn’t it?
A young man’s father, close to death, reveals to his son the true story of his grandfather’s death, or at least the truth as he knows it. The mean old gaucho was murdered by some fellow villagers in Garopaba, a sleepy town on the Atlantic now famous for its surfing and fishing. It was almost an execution, vigilante style. Or so the story goes.
It is almost as if his father has given the young man a deathbed challenge. He has no strong ties to home, he is ready for a change, and he loves the seaside and is a great ocean swimmer, so he strikes out for Garopaba, without even being quite sure why. He finds an apartment by the water and builds a simple new life, taking his father’s old dog as a companion. He swims in the sea every day, makes a few friends, enters into a relationship, begins to make inquiries.
But information doesn’t come easily. A rare neurological condition means that he doesn’t recognize the faces of people he’s met, leading frequently to awkwardness and occasionally to hostility. And the people who know about his grandfather seem fearful, even haunted. Life becomes complicated in Garopaba until it becomes downright dangerous.
Steeped in a very special atmosphere, both languid and tense, and soaked in the sultry allure of south Brazil, Daniel Galera’s masterfully spare and powerful prose unfolds a story of discovery that feels almost archetypal—a display of storytelling sorcery that builds with oceanic force and announces one of Brazil’s greatest young writers to the English-speaking world.
From the Hardcover edition.
Brazilian writer Galera’s novel follows a young man in a beautiful but impoverished coastal town as he tries to uncover the details behind his grandfather’s death. Still reeling from a complicated breakup, the unnamed protagonist visits his ailing father, where he’s told the mysterious story of his grandfather’s murder: no body was ever recovered, no guilty party ever found. After the young man’s father dies, the listless fellow leaves Porto Alegre for coastal Garopaba, desperately seeking some kind of personal peace while also searching out the truth about his grandfather’s end. The bulk of the story has the young man exploring tropical settings, exercising, or attempting to infiltrate the loose social network of Garopaba’s highly secretive, nefarious inhabitants. The task is made significantly more difficult by the young man’s rare condition—he’s unable to recognize faces, even those of people he’s known for years, within minutes of looking away from them. This blunt translation presents a stoic journey of self-discovery, the murder mystery functioning merely as a backdrop. Galera’s keen sense of characters and unflinching depictions of the sometimes awkward desperation of coastal life ground the story and give it a gritty feel that is consistently satisfying. (Jan.)
—John Freeman, Dallas Morning News
“Spooky, superbly executed....Be patient with this book. Its subtle accretion of secrets... produces a magnetic aura of imminence and menace. Superstition, rumor and illusion filter into reality in a way reminiscent of Gabriel García Márquez... The exciting, action-packed culmination to this impressive novel manages to reveal what happened to Gaudério without answering away the eerie mysteries that surround his story.”
—Wall Street Journal
“Entertaining... a low-key and often very funny existential noir with sand between its toes. At various moments, it put me in mind of the work of Roberto Bolaño, Jim Harrison, the Coen brothers and the Denis Johnson of his black comedy “Already Dead” (1997). It’s a campfire story for sensitive, flip-flop-wearing, would-be tough guys.... [Blood-Drenched Beard] is seductive. It’s got a tidal pull.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times
“Blood-Drenched Beard, Daniel Galera’s exploration of family, is part mystery, part travelogue and part sociology steeped in magical realism. No matter which part this gifted Brazilian stresses, his work feels tidal, like the ocean it features so heavily.... Translated from the Portuguese with grace and swing by Alison Entrekin, the novel plays along the Brazilian coastline, blending the geographical and the psychological. It is a journey into self, a narrative of rich characterization, startling detail and psychedelic sweep.”
“Blood-Drenched Beard has at its center a fascinatingly headstrong character, one who swims perfectly but flounders on land, who strives for connection with his grandfather while cutting himself off from family — and one we root for despite not knowing his name. If Galera’s other three novels are this potent and absorbing, and if his able-bodied translator Alison Entrekin can be persuaded to return to the helm, then readers are in for a treat.”
“This is Galera’s first novel. It is ambitious, thoughtful... Both Dahlmann and Galera’s characters search for the gaucho in an endeavor to revive a sense of the pastoral, but this itself leads only to anachronism. Their longing is the mourning of the thing, hidden by the symbol of it. Though their textual tactics may not cohere, that ambition shared by both Lispector and Galera is inherently pastoral, personal, spiritual. This “pastoralism” is not in the adherence to a genre or fetishization of the wilderness. No, the question of knowing a world beyond its corruption by symbols is not one of style or form but the fundamental question of writing itself.”
—Music & Literature
“[A] heavily detailed, epic tale, sprinkled with magical realism... Galera's language is captivating.... These are Galera's greatest strengths in "Blood-Drenched Beard" — the quiet and unexpected moments when he forces the reader to pause and wonder: What would I do?”
“In an atmosphere both languid and tense, a story unfolds of a young man searching for the truth of his grandfather’s death... but beneath the community’s sleepy surface lie violent secrets.”
—DuJour, “Winter’s Hottest Fiction”
“Full of more than just mystery. Galera uses his hero’s condition to ruminate on relationships and his search into the past to contemplate beliefs about individuality and connectedness….an intriguing novel from a celebrated Brazilian author.”
“Galera’s keen sense of characters and unflinching depictions of the sometimes awkward desperation of coastal life ground the story and give it a gritty feel that is consistently satisfying.”
“[An] altogether impressive novel by a young writer only now becoming known outside Brazil... Galera here blends some of the wistfulness of Latin American magical realism with a brooding dystopianism.... An elegant, literate and literary mystery of appearances and disappearances.”
“Daniel Galera reinterprets American crime fiction and B-movie noir for knowing, postmodernist tastes.... The semi-tropical landscapes of southern Brazil are rendered vividly throughout in their sultry golds and greens; the region’s samba, reggae and hip-hop rhythms are nicely evoked, too... Galera’s is an absorbing... novel that radiates a sense of unease and menace.”
“[Blood-Drenched Beard] succeeds in creating an unsettling contrast between the beauty of [a] sleepy paradise and its sinister underbelly.... [Galera] has produced an honest, disturbing portrait of a town that is, we discover, a predatory place at heart.”
“Coolly seductive... A tensely atmospheric novel whose glassy surface conceals a dangerous undertow.”
In the style of a noirish mystery story, a stranger shows up in an exotic beachside town in Brazil and begins asking questions about his grandfather, who disappeared in the area many years ago and may have been murdered. The nameless narrator encounters suspicious looks and is warned about inquiring of the locals. Further complicating the story is his suffering from a rare condition that prevents him from recognizing faces, so he exists essentially in a world of unknown figures. Gradually, we learn that his wife had left him years before and taken up with his brother. The man starts working as a swimming instructor at a local fitness club, where he gets to know some members of the colorful local population and launches an affair or two, as he picks up various clues to the story of his grandfather. Eventually, to get some real answers, he must strike out into the surrounding woods. VERDICT The talented Galera, evidently highly regarded in his native Brazil, invests the mystery/quest structure of this novel with abundant colorful and lively details. However, it's hard to tell if this is the author's breakthrough work or how large an audience it will have.—James Coan, SUNY at Oneonta Lib.
Pensive, sometimes oppressive, altogether impressive novel by a young writer only now becoming known outside Brazil.A translator of Zadie Smith and David Mitchell, Galera here blends some of the wistfulness of Latin American magical realism with a brooding dystopianism. His Maconda is a place called Garopaba, a beach town that the world pretty well forgets once the season is over. There, a blameless and nameless young man, left in the world without family or friends, finds an anchorage of sorts and even something like love: "Jasmim is the first person he has ever met," our narrator tells us, "who knows what prosopagnosia is." Prosopa what? Well, the young man has an unfortunate condition that causes him to forget faces, which makes it altogether too easy for bullies to victimize him without him being able to identify the assailant. So they do, but they 'fess up to things like stealing his faithful old canine companion: "I forget people's faces," he says. "Now who was it?" Says the bad guy, "It was me," knowing that his victim won't remember in a minute, that he isn't even capable of hating his enemies, since he can't tell them apart from anyone else. His tormentors may have cause to behave badly, though, since, as the young man learns, his grandfather, who was killed in Garopaba, may not have been altogether undeserving of his fate. Galera writes lyrically of a land of jungle and beach, even when the mood turns Hitchcock-ian: "He steps on a loose stone, and his fall is broken by his backpack, but his elbow gets a good whack, and he feels the pain travel up his arm to his shoulder like an electric shock." The mystery mounts: Will the young man plunge onto the rocks below? Will those he trusts betray him? Are we really made of stardust? All will be revealed, though Galera warns on the last count, "Stop talking like hippies." An elegant, literate and literary mystery of appearances and disappearances.
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***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2015 Daniel Galera
When my uncle died, I was seventeen and knew him only from old photos. For some unfathomable
reason, my parents used to say that he was the one who owed us a visit, and they refused to take me to the seaside to meet him. I was curious to know who he was, and once passed quite close to the town of Garopaba, in Santa Catarina, where he lived, but I ended up putting off visiting until later. When you’re a teenager, the rest of your life seems like an eternity, and you imagine there’ll be time for everything. News of his death took a while to reach my father, who was secluded in a cabin in the mountains of São Paulo, trying to finish his latest novel. My uncle had drowned trying to save a swimmer who fell from the rocks on Ferrugem Beach on a day of stormy seas and ten-foot waves exploding against the coast. The swimmer clung to the f loat he had given him and was rescued by other lifeguards. My uncle’s body was never found. There was a symbolic funeral in Garopaba, and we attended. My mother showed me the location of the first apartment he had lived in, though it has now been demolished. In old photos you can see the two-story beige building with its roof terrace, right in front of the ocean, above the rocks. There weren’t any tall buildings on the waterfront back then, and the water was still good for swimming. The population of the original village—now heritage-listed—around which the town has grown, still partially made its living from fishing, which has since disappeared, giving way to boat tours. We met his widow, a woman with very white skin covered in faded tattoos, and their two young children, a boy and a girl, both of whom had their mother’s blue eyes. My cousins. There weren’t many people at the funeral. My mother broke down crying, which I didn’t understand, and later spent about half an hour gazing out to sea, talking to herself, or to someone. There were other people staring out to sea as if they were waiting for something, and I had the strange impression that they were all thinking about my uncle, even though he had been described as a recluse whom few people knew well, a man from another era. I decided to film some interviews about him, and my parents allowed me to stay on in the town for a few days on my own. No one knew my uncle intimately, but everyone seemed to have something to say about him. At the beginning of the previous decade, he had opened a small studio, where he taught stretching and Pilates. Most people remembered him as a triathlon coach, and it would appear that half a dozen state and national champions had trained with him at some point. During the summer season, he would put his regular activities on hold to work as a lifeguard. He was the best. He trained volunteers every year. At dusk, after a twelve-hour shift rescuing swimmers, treating cases of sunstroke and jellyfish stings, and walking about under the brutal sun of a southern region devoid of an ozone layer, he was seen swimming alone out in the deep, oblivious to turbulent seas, downpours, and sudden nightfall. He was a solitary man, but at some stage he had married this woman who had sprung from goodness knows where and built a little house on a dirt road that wound its way through the hills of Ambrósio. Everyone who remembers my uncle from the old days mentions a lame dog that swam like a dolphin and that accompanied him out into the deep. And here ends what we might refer to as the facts. The rest of the interviews were a kaleidoscope of overlapping rumors, legends, and colorful stories. They said that he could stay underwater for ten minutes without coming up for air; that the dog that followed him high and low was immortal; that he had once taken on ten locals in a fistfight and won; that he swam at night from beach to beach and was seen emerging from the sea in distant places; that he had killed people, which was why he was discreet and kept to himself; that he never turned away anyone who came to him for help; that he had inhabited those beaches forever and would continue to do so. More than one or two said they didn’t believe he was really dead.
He sees a bulbous nose, shiny and pockmarked like tangerine peel. A strangely youthful mouth
between a chin and cheeks covered in fine lines, slightly sagging skin. Clean-shaven. Large ears with even larger lobes that look as if their own weight has stretched them out. Irises the color of watery coffee in the middle of lascivious, relaxed eyes. Three deep, horizontal furrows in his forehead, perfectly parallel and equidistant. Yellowing teeth. A thick crop of blond hair breaking in a single wave over his head and flowing down to the nape of his neck. His eyes take in every quadrant of this face in the space of a breath, and he could swear he’s never seen this person before in his life, but he knows it’s his dad because no one else lives in this house on this property in Viamão and because lying on the floor next to the man in the armchair is the Blue Heeler bitch who has been his dad’s companion for many years.
What’s that face? asks his father.
It’s an old joke. He gives his usual answer with the barest hint of a smile:
The only one I’ve got.
Now he notices his dad’s clothes, the tailored dark gray slacks and blue shirt with long sleeves rolled up to the elbows, with sweaty patches under his arms and around his bulging belly, sandals that appear to have been chosen against his will, as if only the heat were stopping him from wearing leather shoes. He also sees a bottle of French cognac and a revolver on the little table next to his reclining chair.
Have a seat, says his dad, nodding at the white two-seater imitation-leather sofa.
It is early February, and no matter what the thermometers say, it feels like it’s over a hundred degrees in and around Porto Alegre. When he arrived, he saw that the two ipê trees that kept guard in front of the house were heavy with leaves and drooping in the still air. The last time he was here, back in the spring, their purple and yellow- flowered crowns were shivering in the cold wind. Still in the car, he passed the vines on the left side of the house and saw several bunches of tiny grapes. He imagined them transpiring sugar after months of dry weather and heat. The property hadn’t changed at all in the last few months. It never did: it was a flat rectangle overgrown with grass beside the dirt road, with a small disused soccer pitch in its usual state of neglect, the annoying barking of Catfish, the other dog, the front door standing open.
Where’s the pickup?
I sold it.
Why is there a revolver on the table?
It’s a pistol.
Why is there a pistol on the table?
The sound of a motorbike going down the road is accompanied by Catfish’s barking, as hoarse as an inveterate smoker shouting. His dad frowns. He can’t stand the noisy, insolent mongrel and keeps it only out of a sense of duty. You can leave a kid, a brother, a father, definitely a wife—there are circumstances in which all these things are justifiable—but you don’t have the right to leave a dog after caring for it for a certain amount of time, his dad had once told him when he was still a boy and the whole family lived in Ipanema, in the south zone of Porto Alegre, in a house that had also been home to half a dozen dogs at one stage or another. Dogs relinquish a part of their instinct forever in order to live with humans, and they can never fully recover it. A loyal dog is a crippled animal. It’s a pact we can’t undo. The dog can, though it’s rare. But humans don’t have the right, said his dad. And so Catfish’s dry cough must be endured. That’s what they’re doing, his dad and Beta, the old dog lying next to him, a truly admirable, intelligent, circumspect animal, as strong and sturdy as a wild boar.
How’s life, son?
Why the revolver? Pistol.
You look tired.
I am, a bit. I’m coaching a guy for the Ironman. A doctor. He’s good. Great swimmer, and he’s doing okay in the rest. He’s got one of those bikes that weighs fifteen pounds, including the tires. They cost about fifteen grand. He wants to enter next year and qualify for the world championship in three years max. He’ll make it. But he’s a fucking pain in the ass, and I have to put up with him. I haven’t had much sleep, but it’s worth it. The pay’s good. I’m still teaching swimming. I finally managed to get the bodywork done on my car. Good as new. It cost two grand. And last month I went to the coast, spent a week in Farol with Antônia. The redhead. Oh, wait, you never met her. Too late, we had a fight in Farol. And that’s about it, Dad. Everything else is the same as always. What’s that pistol doing there?
Tell me about the redhead. You got that weakness from me.
I’ll tell you what the pistol’s doing there in a minute, okay? Jesus, tchê, can’t you see I’m in the mood for a bit of a chat first?
For fuck’s sake.
Fine, I’m sorry.
Want a beer?
If you’re having one.
His dad extracts his body from the soft armchair with some difficulty. The skin on his arms and neck has taken on a permanent ruddiness in the last few years, along with a rather fowllike texture. His father used to kick a ball around with him and his older brother when they were teenagers, and he frequented gyms on and off until he was forty-something, but since then, as if coinciding with his younger son’s growing interest in all kinds of sports, he has become completely sedentary. He has always eaten and drunk like a horse, smoked cigarettes and cigars since he was sixteen, and indulged in cocaine and hallucinogens, so that it now takes some effort for him to haul his bones around. On his way to the kitchen, he passes the wall in the corridor where a dozen advertising awards hang, glass-framed certificates and brushed- metal plaques dating mostly from the eighties, when he was at the peak of his copywriting career. There are also a couple of trophies at the other end of the living room, on the mahogany top of a low display cabinet. Beta follows him on his journey to the fridge. She looks as old as her master, a living animal totem gliding silently behind him. His dad plodding past the reminders of a distant professional glory, the faithful animal at his heel, and the meaninglessness of the Sunday afternoon all induce an unsettled feeling in him that is as inexplicable as it is familiar, a feeling he sometimes gets when he sees someone fretting over a decision or tiny problem as if the whole house-of-cards meaning of life depended on it. He sees his dad at the limits of his endurance, dangerously close to giving up. The fridge door opens with a squeal of suction, glass clinks, and in seconds he and the dog are back, quicker to return than go.
Farol de Santa Marta is over near Laguna, isn’t it?
They twist the caps off their beers, the gas escapes with a derisive hiss, and they toast nothing in particular.
It’s a shame I didn’t get to the coast of Santa Catarina more often. Everyone used to go in the seventies. Your mother did before she met me. I was the one who started taking her down south, to Uruguay and so on. Those beaches have always disturbed me a little. My dad died up there, near Laguna, Imbituba. In Garopaba.
It takes him a few seconds to realize that his dad is talking about his own father, who died before he was born.
Granddad? You always said you didn’t know how he died.
Several times. You said you didn’t know how or where he’d died.
Hmm. I may have. I think I did, actually.
Wasn’t it true?
His dad thinks before answering. He doesn’t appear to be stalling for time; rather, he is reasoning, digging around in memory, or just choosing his words.
No, it wasn’t true. I know where he died, and I have a pretty good idea how. It was in Garopaba. That’s why I never liked going to those parts much.
It was in ’sixty-nine. He left the farm in Taquara in . . . ’sixty-six. He must have wound up in Garopaba about a year later, lived there for around two years, something like that, until they killed him.
short laugh erupts from his nose and the corner of his mouth. His dad looks at him and smiles too.
What the fuck, Dad? What do you mean, killed him?
You’ve got your granddad’s smile, you know.
No. I don’t know what his smile was like. I don’t know what mine’s like either. I forget.
His dad says that he and his granddad resemble each other not just in their smiles but in many other physical and behavioral traits. He says his dad had the same nose, narrower than his own. The wide face, the deep-set eyes. The same skin color. The granddad’s indigenous blood had skipped his son and come out in his grandson. Your athletic build, he says, that came from your granddad for sure. He was taller than you, about six foot. Back then no one practiced sports like you do, but the way he chopped wood, tamed horses, tilled the soil, he’d have given today’s triathletes a run for their money. That was my life too until I was twenty. Don’t think I don’t know what I’m talking about. I used to work on the land with Dad when I was young, and I was impressed by his strength. Once we went looking for a lost sheep, and we found it over near the fence, almost on the neighbor’s side, in a bad way. About two miles from the house. I was wondering how we were going to get the pickup there to take it home, already imagining that Dad was going to send me to get a horse, but he hoisted the ewe onto his shoulders, as if it were hugging his neck, and started walking. A sheep like that weighs ninety to a hundred pounds, and you remember what it’s like out there: all hills and rocky ground. I was about seventeen and asked to help carry it, ’cause I wanted to help, but Dad said no, she’s in place now. Taking her off and putting her back will just be more tiring. Let’s keep walking, the important thing is to keep walking. I probably wouldn’t have been able to bear that animal on my back for more than one or two minutes anyway. I was never scrawny, but you two are a different breed. You’re even alike in your temperament. Your granddad was pretty quiet, like you. The silent, disciplined sort. He wasn’t one for idle chatter, spoke only when he had to, and was annoyed by people who didn’t know when to shut up. But that’s where the similarities end. You’re gentle-natured, polite. Your granddad had a short fuse. What a cantankerous old man he was! He was famous for pulling out his knife over any little thing. He’d go to a dance and wind up in a brawl. To this day I don’t know how he got into so many fights, because he didn’t drink much, didn’t smoke, didn’t gamble, and didn’t mess around with other women. Your grandma almost always went out with him, and it’s funny, she didn’t seem bothered by this violent side of his. She liked to listen to him play. He was one hell of a guitar player. She once told me he was the way he was because he had an artist’s soul but had chosen the wrong life. She said he should have traveled the world playing music and letting out his philosophical sentiments—that was the expression she used, I remember clearly—instead of working the land and marrying her, but he had missed his true calling when he was very young, and then it was too late, because he was a man of principles and changing his mind would have been a violation of those principles. That was her explanation for his short fuse, and it makes sense to me, though I never knew my dad well enough to be sure. All I know is that he was forever dealing out punches and whacking people with the broad side of his knife.
Did he ever kill anyone?
Not that I know of. Producing his knife rarely meant stabbing someone. He did it more to show off, I think. I don’t remember him coming home hurt, either. Except that time he got shot.
He was shot in the hand. I told you about that.
True. He lost his fingers, didn’t he?
In one of these fights, he lunged at a guy, and the guy fired his gun to give him a fright. The bullet grazed Dad’s fingers. He lost a bit of two fingers, the little finger and the one next to it. On his left hand, the one he used for picking. A few weeks later he decided to take up the guitar again, and in no time he was playing just as well as he always had or better. Some people said he’d improved. I can’t say. He developed a crazy picking technique for his milongas. I guess those two fingers don’t make much difference. I don’t know. They certainly didn’t make any difference for him. What really did him in was when your grandma died of peritonitis. I was eighteen. Life was never the same again, not for me or for him.
His dad pauses and takes a sip of beer.
Did you leave the farm after Grandma died?
No, we stayed on for a while longer. About two years. But everything started getting strange. Your granddad was really attached to your grandma. He was the most faithful man I’ve ever known. Unlesshe was really discreet, had secrets . . . but it was impossible in a place like that, a small town where everyone knows everything. The women used to fall in love with your granddad. A bold, strapping man, a guitar player. I know because I went to the dances and saw single and married women falling all over him. My mother used to talk about it with her friends too. He could have been the biggest Don Juan in the region and was insanely faithful. Blondes galore all wanting a bit, wives looking for some fun. I myself lived it up. And Dad would give me a piece of his mind. He said I was like a pig wallowing in mud. Ever seen a pig wallowing in mud? It’s the picture of happiness. But your granddad’s moral code was based on the essential, almost maniacal notion that a man had to find a woman who liked him and look after her forever. We used to fight a lot because of it. I actually admired it in him when my mother was still alive, but after she died, he maintained a ridiculous sense of fidelity that no longer served any purpose. It wasn’t exactly mourning, because it wasn’t long before he was back at the dances, livening up barbecues, playing the guitar and getting into fights. He took to drinking more too. The women were all over him like flies on meat, and little by little he let his guard down to this one or that one, but in general he was mysteriously chaste. There was something there that I never understood and never will. We started apart, him and me. Not because of that, of course, though we didn’t see eye to eye on how to deal with women. But we started to argue.
Was that when you came to Porto Alegre?
Yeah. I came in ’sixty-five.
I’d just turned twenty.
But why did you and Granddad argue?
Well . . . I don’t really know how to explain it. But the main thing was that he thought I was lazy and a womanizer who didn’t want anything out of life and wasn’t even remotely interested in the farm, work, or moral or religious institutions of any kind. And he was right, though he was a bit over the top in his assessment. I think he just got fed up and couldn’t be bothered trying to set me straight. I wasn’t really such a lost cause, but your granddad . . . anyway. One day I experienced his famous short fuse first hand. And the upshot was that he sent me away to Porto Alegre.
Did he hit you?
His dad doesn’t answer.
Okay, forget I asked.
We knocked each other about a bit, so to speak. Oh, what the fuck. At this stage in the game, none of it matters anymore. Suffice to say that he gave me a working over. And the next day he apologized but announced that he was sending me to Porto Alegre and that it would be better for me. I’d been to Porto Alegre several times before and knew right away that he was right. I felt big here right from the first day. I went to technical school. In a year and a half I’d opened a printer’s shop over in Azenha. In three years I was making good money writing ads for shock absorbers, crackers, and residential lots. Stylize.
The glasses for eyes with style. And worse.
Okay. But Granddad was killed.
There’s the thing. This is where the story gets a bit nebulous, and I heard most of it second hand. I’m not exactly sure what happened, and it may be that nothing specific prompted it, but about a year after I came to the city, your granddad left the farm. I only found out when I got a call from him. International. He was in Argentina. In some armpit of the world whose name I don’t remember. He said he just wanted to travel around a bit, but at the end of the call, he kind of let on that he had gone for good, that he’d keep in touch and that I shouldn’t worry. I didn’t. Not much. I remember thinking that if he ended up dying in a knife fight in some shithole, like the character in that Borges story “The South,” nothing could be more appropriate. Tragic, but appropriate. Anyway. I also thought there had to be a woman in the story, or at least there was a ninety-nine percent chance of it, there’s always a woman in these cases, and if there was, it was a good thing. And over the course of the following year he called me three more times, if memory serves me. One time he was in Uruguaiana. The next he was in some town in Paraná. Then he disappeared for about six months, and when he called again, he was in a fishing village in Santa Catarina called Garopaba. And even though I don’t remember exactly what he said, I remember sensing that something about him had changed. There was a youthful ring to his voice, and some of what he said was nigh incomprehensible. His description of the place was incoherent. I just remember one detail: he said something about pumpkins and sharks. I thought my old man had lost it or, even harder to believe, that he’d started hanging out with hippies and got his head in a scramble with some kind of tea. But what he was saying was that he’d seen the fishermen catching sharks by throwing cooked pumpkin into the sea. The sharks would eat the pumpkin, and that shit would ferment and swell up in their bellies until they exploded. And I said, Yeah right, Dad, great, take care, and he said bye and hung up.
He never called again, and I started getting worried. One weekend a few months later, when I hadn’t heard from him, I got on my bike, the Suzuki 50cc I had at the time, and went up to Garopaba. An eight-hour trip on Highway BR-101, against the wind. We’re talking 1967. To get to Garopaba, you had to travel about twelve miles on a dirt road, and in some places it was just sand, and all you saw along the way were half a dozen farmers’ shacks, hills, and vegetation. The people, when you actually saw someone, were all barefoot, and for each motorbike or pickup, there were five ox-drawn carts. The village didn’t appear to have more than a thousand inhabitants and when you got to the beach you didn’t see much more in the way of civilization than a white church on the hill and the fishermen’s sheds and boats. The main village was clustered around the whaling station, and although I didn’t see anything, they still hunted whales in those parts. They were starting to cobble the village’s first streets, and the new square had just been finished. There were cottages and smallholdings on the outskirts of the village, and it was on one of these properties that I found your granddad, after asking around. Oh, Gaudério, said a local. So I went looking for Gaudério and discovered that your granddad had set himself up on a kind of miniature model of the old family farm, about five hundred yards from the beach. He had an old nag, a bunch of chickens, and a vegetable garden that took up most of the land. He got by doing odd jobs and was friendly with the fishermen. He also gathered palm leaves, which were used to fill mattresses. He’d dry the leaves in the sun, then sell them for processing. He’d slept in the fishing sheds until he found a house. I couldn’t imagine my dad sleeping in a hammock, much less in a fishing shed with the waves hammering in his ears. But it was nothing next to the spearfishing. The locals fished for grouper, octopus, and I don’t know what else, diving around the rocks, and even back then there were already groups coming from Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo for that kind of fishing. And your granddad told me that one day he’d gone out in a boat with one of these groups, and they’d lent him one of those masks with a tube attached, a snorkel, flippers, and a harpoon. He dived under and didn’t come back up. A guy from São Paulo freaked out and jumped in to look for Dad’s body at the bottom of the sea and found him down on the reefs at the exact moment that he was harpooning a grouper the size of a calf. And that was when they discovered that Gaudério was a born apneist. He knew how to swim and could cross a fast-flowing river without a problem, but he’d never suspected he had such a great lung capacity. You should have seen your granddad back then. In ’sixty-seven he was forty-five or forty-six, or forty-seven, I’ve lost count, but it was something like that, and his health was incredible. He’d never smoked, turned up his nose at cigarettes, and was as hardy as a Crioulo horse. He’d always been strong, but he’d lost weight, and although the signs of aging were all there, wrinkles, thinning gray hair, the marks of working on the land, all he needed was a little polishing up, and he’d have been a seasoned athlete. He had a broad, solid chest. A few weeks before I arrived, a diver about the same age as him, an army officer, I think, had died of a pulmonary embolism trying to match Dad’s diving record. I might be mistaken, as it’s been a while since I heard the story, but it was something like four or five minutes underwater.
So why did they kill him?
I’m getting there. Patience, tchê. I wanted to give you the context. Because it’s a good story, isn’t it? Oh yes. You should’ve seen him back then. It’s not normal for someone to leave one environment and go somewhere really different and adapt like that.
Don’t you have a photo of Granddad somewhere? You showed me one once.
Hmm. I don’t know if I still have it. Do I? I do. I remember where it is. Want to see it?
Yeah. I don’t remember his face, obviously. It’d be nice to look at the photo while you tell me the rest.
His dad disappears into the bedroom for a few minutes, beer in hand, and comes back holding an old photograph with scalloped edges. The black and white image shows a bearded man wrapped in a sheepskin, sitting on a bench beside a kitchen table, starting to raise the straw of a gourd of maté to his lips, looking kind of sideways at the camera, unhappy about being photographed. He is wearing leather boots, bombacha pants, and a sweater with a pattern of squares on it. There is a supermarket calendar with a picture of Sugarloaf Mountain on the wall, and the light is coming from up high, from louver windows that are partially out of frame. There is nothing written on the back.
He gets up and goes to the bathroom. He compares the face in the photograph with the face in the mirror and feels a shiver run through him. From the nose up, the face in the photo is a darker and slightly older copy of the face in the mirror. The only difference worthy of note is his granddad’s beard, but he feels like he is looking at a photograph of himself in spite of it.
I’d like to keep this photo, he says as he settles back on the sofa.
His dad nods.
I visited your granddad in Garopaba one more time, and it was the last. It was in June, during the church fair, which is quite an event there. Music, dance performances, everyone stuffing their faces with fresh fish, and so on. One night a folk singer from Uruguaiana got up on stage, a big kid of about twenty-five, and your granddad took an immediate dislike to him. He said he knew the guy, he’d seen him play over near the border, and he was crap. I remember liking him. He plucked at the strings vigorously, made deep-and-meaningful expressions as he played, and told rehearsed jokes between songs. Dad thought he was a clown with a lot of technique and not much feeling. It wouldn’t have gone any further, but after the show the singer was having some mulled wine at a stall, and someone thought it would be nice to introduce them, seeing as they were both gauchos in baggy pants. The guy took the singer by the arm and brought him over to Dad, and the two of them quickly locked horns. I found out later that it was much more than a question of musical quality, but at first they pretended they didn’t know each other, out of respect for the guy who was so excited to introduce them. But the guy made the mistake of asking Dad point-blank if he’d liked the music, and Dad was the sort who, if you asked, you got his honest opinion. His answer made the singer furious. They started to argue, and Dad told him to turn his face away because his breath smelled like a dead pampas fox’s ass. Several people heard him and laughed. The singer got nasty, of course, and then it wasn’t long before Dad whipped out his knife. The singer let it go, and that was the end of it, but the thing I remember was the reaction of the crowd that had gathered around. It wasn’t just that they were curious about the fight. They were looking sideways at your granddad, whispering and shaking their heads. I realized that in the time between my visits they’d started to disapprove of him. I mean, nobody wants a bad-mannered, knife-wielding gaucho around. I told him to cool it, but it was useless with your granddad. He wasn’t even aware of his own stupidity. The people here are scared of you, I told him. That’s not good. You’re going to get yourself into some serious trouble. I left and didn’t hear from him for ages. At the time I was kind of stuck in Porto Alegre, working a lot, and it was also when I started seeing your mother. We dated for four years and she left me three times before we got married. But anyway, I didn’t visit your granddad for quite a while, and several months later I got a call from a police chief in Laguna saying he’d been murdered. There had been a Sunday dance at some community hall, the kind where the whole town goes. When the dance was in full swing, the lights go off. When they come back on a minute later, there’s a gaucho lying in the middle of the hall in a pool of blood, with dozens and dozens of stab wounds. Everyone killed him; that is, no one person killed him. The town killed him. That’s what the police chief told me. Everyone was there, entire families, probably even the priest. They turned out the lights, no one saw a thing. The people weren’t afraid of your granddad. They hated him.
They both take a swig of beer. His dad empties his bottle and looks at him, almost smiling.
Except that I don’t believe that story.
Huh? Why not?
Because there was no body.
But wasn’t it him lying there all cut up?
That’s what they told me. But I never saw the body. When the police chief called me, it had all been more or less wrapped up. They said it had taken weeks to track me down. They had gone looking for me in Taquara, as someone in Garopaba knew he was from there. They found someone who recognized Dad from their description and knew my name. By the time they called me, he’d already been buried.
There in Garopaba. In the little village cemetery. It’s a stone with nothing written on it, at the back of the cemetery.
Did you go there?
I did. I visited the grave and took care of some paperwork in Laguna. It was all very strange. I had the strongest feeling it wasn’t him in that hole. The grass growing over the grave was pretty tall. I remember thinking, I’ll be damned if this here was dug the week before last. And I couldn’t find anyone who could confirm the story. It was as if it hadn’t happened. The story of the crime itself was plausible, and the villagers’ silence made sense, but the way I found out about it, what the police chief told me, that awful stone with no name on it . . . I was never really convinced. But at any rate, whatever happened to your granddad, it was bound to happen. People meet the death they’re due in most cases. He met his.
Have you ever thought about having the grave opened? There must be a legal way to go about it.
His dad glances away, annoyed. He sighs.
Listen. I’ve never told this story to anyone. Your mother doesn’t know. If you ask her, she’ll say your granddad disappeared, because that’s what I told her. As far as I was concerned, he really had disappeared. I left it at that. I didn’t give it any more thought. If you think it’s horrible, that’s too bad. The way I was at that age, the life I had back then . . . it’d be hard to make you understand now.
I don’t think it’s horrible. Relax.
His dad fidgets in his armchair. Beta gets up and with a small lurch puts her front paws on her master’s leg. He grabs and holds her face as if muzzling her, lowering his head to look her in the eye. When he lets go, she lies down next to the armchair again. It is one of many inscrutable rituals that are a part of his dad’s relationship with the animal.
So why are you telling me this now?
You haven’t read that short story by Borges that I mentioned earlier, have you?
I haven’t read anything by Borges.
’Course you haven’t, you read fuck all.
Dad. The pistol.
His dad opens the bottle of cognac, fills a small glass, and downs it in one go. He doesn’t offer him any. He picks up the pistol and examines it for a minute. He releases the magazine and clicks it back into place, as if to show that it isn’t loaded. A single bead of sweat runs down his forehead, drawing attention to the fact that he is no longer sweating all over. A minute earlier he was covered in sweat. He tucks the pistol into the waistband of his slacks and looks at him.
I’m going to kill myself tomorrow.
He thinks about what he’s just heard for a good while, listening to his irregular breathing leaving his nostrils in short puffs. An immense tiredness weighs suddenly on his shoulders. He stuffs the photo of his granddad into his pocket, dries his hands on his Bermuda shorts, gets up, and heads for the front door.
Come back here.
What for? What do you want me to do after hearing that kind of shit? Either you’re serious and want me to convince you to change your mind, which would be the most fucked-up thing you’ve ever asked me to do, or you’re having a laugh at my expense, which would be so pathetic that I don’t even want to find out. ’Bye.
Come back here, damn it.
He comes to a halt by the door, looking back at the sad floor of pinkish clay tiles separated by stripes of cement, the lush fern trying to escape a pot hanging from the ceiling, the perennial atmosphere of cigar smoke that pervades the living room with its invisible consistency and sweet, strangely animal smell.
I’m not joking, and I don’t want you to convince me of anything. I’m just informing you of something that’s going to happen.
Nothing’s going to happen.
Look, understand this: it’s inevitable. I made up my mind a few weeks ago in a moment of absolute lucidity. I’m tired. I’m fed up. I think it started with that hemorrhoid surgery. At my last checkup, the doctor stared at my tests, then looked at me with a woeful expression as if he were disappointed in the whole human race. I got the impression he was going to quit my case like a lawyer. And he’s right. I’m starting to get sick, and I can’t be bothered with it all. I can’t taste my beer anymore, cigars are bad for me but I can’t stop, and I don’t even feel like taking Viagra so I can fuck. I don’t even miss fucking. Life’s too long, and I haven’t got the patience for it. For someone who’s had a life like mine, living beyond sixty is just being stubborn. I respect those who take it seriously, but I can’t be bothered. I was happy until about two years ago, and now I want to go. Anyone who thinks I’m wrong can live to a hundred if they want. Good luck to ’em. I’ve nothing against it.
Yeah. Forget it. I can’t expect you to understand. We’re too different. Don’t bother—it’ll be a waste of your time.
You know I won’t let you do it, Dad, so why did you invite me over to tell me?
I know it’s not fair. But I did it because I trust you, I know how strong you are. I called you because there’s something I need to take care of first, and I can’t do it alone. Only my son can help me.
Why don’t you call your other son? Who knows, he might even find the whole thing amusing? He’ll write a book about it.
No, I need you. It’s the most important thing I’ve ever had to ask anyone, and I know I can count on you.
Give me that pistol now, and I’ll take care of it, whatever it is. Okay? Are you done clowning around?
His dad laughs at his exasperation.
Tchê, kid . . . listen. What needs to be taken care of is because of the other thing.
That word makes it sound kind of gutless. I’m avoiding it. But go ahead and use it if you want.
What do I do now, Dad? Call the police? Have you committed? Go over there and take that gun away by force? Did you really think this would work?
It already has. It’s as if it’s already happened.
That’s stupid. It’s your choice. What if I make you change your mind?
It’s not my choice. It’d be easier for me, and much easier for you, to see it as a choice. My decision doesn’t lead to the fact—it’s a part of the fact. It’s just another way to die, kid. It took me a long time to come this far. Sit down again, son. Want another beer?
He walks quickly over to the sofa and sits down angrily.
Look, consider this: imagine what it’d be like if you or anyone else tried to stop me now. It’d be a pain in the ass. Me trying to act on my decision and you guys trying to stop me, goodness knows how, living with me, watching me, committing me to an institution, medicating me, your brother coming from São Paulo, and your mother having to put up with me again. Who knows what you could do, but it’d be a nightmare for everyone involved. Do you see how crazy it’d be? There’s nothing more ridiculous than someone trying to convince someone else. I’ve worked with persuasion my whole life, and it’s the worst cancer of human behavior. No one should ever be convinced of anything. People know what they want, and they know what they need. I know it because I’ve always been a specialist in persuasion and inventing needs, and that’s why that wall there is covered in awards. Don’t try to talk me out of it. If you convinced me not to kill myself, you’d leave me crippled, and I’d live a few more years, defeated, mutilated and sick, begging for mercy. This is serious. Don’t try to persuade me. Persuading someone not to follow their heart is obscene. Persuasion is obscene. We know what we need, and no one can tell us what’s best. What I’m going to do was decided a long time ago, before I even had the idea.
I expected more of you, Dad. More than this retarded drivel. I’ve never been able to play the victim—it makes me sick—and the person who taught me that was you. And now you’re giving me this victim crap.
Well, now I’m going to teach you something else: when you start shitting blood and can’t get it up and wake up feeling fed up with life every goddamn day, you have a moral obligation to act like a victim. Write it down. Oh, don’t give me a hard time, for fuck’s sake. Have you grown balls all of a sudden? It’s not you. You’re the acquiescent sort, a bit of a pushover even. I’ve always told you that to your face. I’ve got you all worked out. I’ve warned you about so many things. And have I ever been wrong? Have I? I told you you’d lose your girlfriend the way you did. I told you the desperate would come to you your whole life. But you really are capable of thinking of the next person even though you can’t remember anyone’s face. And that’s why you’re better than me and your brother. I’m proud of it, and I love you for it. And now I need you to stand by your old man.
His dad’s eyes are red.
What about Beta?
His dad waves at the front door and makes an almost inaudible sound. The dog gets up without hesitation and leaves the house.
You know how much I love that dog. We’ve got a real connection.
I’m not doing it.
There’s no way I can look after a dog right now. And anyway . . . fuck, I don’t believe this. Sorry. I’ve got to go.
I don’t want you to look after her. I want you to take her to Rolf, over in Belém Novo. After I’ve . . . done what I’m going to do. Ask him to give her an injection. I’ve done my homework—it’s painless.
She’s already depressed. She knows. She’ll waste away when she’s on her own.
Do it yourself. You’re the one who thinks he doesn’t have any fucking choice. I do. I won’t be a part of this.
I can’t bring myself to, kid.
You have to promise me.
Forget it, Dad. There’s no way.
I can’t be a part of this.
No. It’s not fair.
You’re denying me my last wish.
It won’t happen.
You’ll do it. I know you will.
I will not. You’re on your own. I can’t. Sorry.
I know you’ll do it. That’s why you’re here.
You’re trying to persuade me. A few minutes ago that was obscene.
I’m not going to persuade you. I’m done. It’s my last wish. I know you won’t deny me it.
Miserable old man.
That’s my name.
A very old memory comes to mind. The scene is incongruous and doesn’t seem to deserve having been recorded in memory, much less being recalled at a moment like this. One morning before work, his dad was shaving in the bathroom with the door open, and he, aged six or seven at the time, was watching him. After shaving, he washed his face with soap, lathering it up well, then rinsed it repeatedly. There was no more soap on his face by the second rinse, but he kept on splashing his face with water, four, five times. He asked his dad why he rinsed his face so many times if the soap was already gone by the second rinse, and he answered as if it were the most obvious thing in the world: ’Cause it feels good.
My hand’s shaking, Dad.
You’re doing just fine. You’re a superior human being.
Seriously, I’m really proud of you. No one else’d be able to do it.
I didn’t say I would.
I could make you promise something much worse. To make up with your brother, for example.
I’d do it if you told me all this was just a big joke. In a few hours I’d be giving him a hug. You could start organizing the barbecue.
Good try. But to be honest, I couldn’t care less. I wouldn’t forgive him, if I were you.
Good to know.
Yeah, well, I don’t mind saying it now. But I really do need you to spare the old girl. She’s fifteen, but her breed can easily live more than twenty years. She’s my life. Ever seen a depressed dog? If she’s left here without me, I’ll take her suffering with me. Can I consider it promised?
No, it’s not okay. I can’t be a part of this.
Love you, kid.
I didn’t say I would. I haven’t accepted. Don’t touch me.
I wasn’t going to. I’m not moving.
What People are Saying About This
“Mr. Galera has a lovely sense of the rhythms of beach town life in the off season, the salty air and the diesel fishing boat motors and sun that burns off the morning chill… Like his narrator, he’s a lover as much as a fighter, and his novel is seductive. It’s got a tidal pull. Blood-Drenched Beard also has a terrific ending. It’s one that suggests, sometimes at least, that peace, love and understanding are vastly overrated.”
“Daniel Galera offers a clever twist on the naive-sleuth trope, and one that leads to a number of strange and often funny confrontations.”
“Brilliant prose from a big-deal translator.”
“Both languid and tense.”
“Atmospheric, multi-layered and poetic, Galera certainly makes a splash with Blood-Drenched Beard, and the ripples will surely affect all they touch.”
“Altogether impressive novel by a young writer ….Galera writes lyrically of a land of jungle and beach, even when the mood turns Hitchcock-ian….An elegant, literate and literary mystery of appearances and disappearances.”
“Full of more than just mystery. Galera uses his hero’s condition to ruminate on relationships and his search into the past to contemplate beliefs about individuality and connectedness….an intriguing novel from a celebrated Brazilian author.”
“Galera’s keen sense of characters and unflinching depictions of the sometimes awkward desperation of coastal life ground the story and give it a gritty feel that is consistently satisfying.”
“The talented Galera, evidently highly regarded in his native Brazil, invests the mystery/quest structure of this novel with abundant colorful and lively details.”
Meet the Author
Daniel Galera is a Brazilian writer and translator. He was born in São Paulo, but lives in Pôrto Alegre, where he has spent most of his life. He has published four novels in Brazil to great acclaim, the latest of which, Barba Ensopada de Sangue (Blood-Drenched Beard), was awarded the 2013 São Paulo Literature Prize. In 2013 Granta named Galera one of the Best Young Brazilian Novelists. He has translated the work of Zadie Smith, John Cheever, and David Mitchell into Portuguese.
Alison Entrekin translates Brazilian literature. Her works include City of God by Paulo Lins; The Eternal Son by Cristovão Tezza, shortlisted for the IMPAC Dublin Literary Award; Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector, shortlisted for the PEN America Translation Prize; and Budapest by Chico Buarque, shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
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An incredibly rich read in intricate atmospheric details, a narrative requiring the reader to enjoy the journey not just the destination. Beautifully written combining, mystery, existentialism, complexities of relationships, love, self discovery, myth, legend, memories, YES! Somehow is all meshes together creating a memorable reading adventure with an unforgettable protagonist. Despite the hodgepodge the narrative offers, it possesses a subtle complexity, rather captivating and hypnotic. The protagonist digs deep without dragging casualties down with him. Heavy in meaning, yet obtainable in exteriority. Simplistically potent best describes the lush prose, challenging the reader until the very end. Those craving a true literary experience offering a tableau of cerebral engagement – this author along with his accomplished work is for you. Daniel Galera, a rising voice in Brazilian literature, remember the name, savor his work.