Fernando. Moldy Strawberries. Trans. from the Portuguese by Bruno Dantas
Lobato. Brooklyn, NY: Archipelago Press. 2022.
Caio Fernando Abreu, or Caio F. (as he signed his letters
and manuscripts), died in 1996, but was most active in the 70s and 80s, when he
first wrote the highly taboo and scandalizing stories. The stories in this collection, first
published in the 1970s and 80s, feel as though they were written yesterday. The
descriptions are visceral and unsettling – almost as though one were a large
brass cymbal or a gong hanging from cords that continues to vibrate long after
being struck with a wooden mallet. His body is your body, and your body is lost
somewhere in the collective consciousness of the stories, where desire is mixed
with shame, confusion, Dionysian abandon fueled by a seething rage for
Some of the stories, such as “The Survivors,” are experimental in form. “The Survivors” is a 7-page
single stream-of-consciousness paragraph that blends art, music, philosophical
and psychological ideas with the memories of a relationship that may have just
ended (the narrator isn’t sure). What is left is “saudade” – the deep,
melancholic longing so characteristic of Brazilian music and literature. I’m
not sure which story was the most unsettling, but the one that first comes to
mind is “Sergeant Garcia,” the story of a corrupt police officer who arrests
adolescent boys and young men to physically and sexually assault, all the while
maintaining a charade of hypermasculinity.
Caio F. died in 1996 of AIDS in a Brazil deeply conflicted
about homosexuality. His impact on
literature was profound, with the sense of a hand-held movie camera, with jerky
quick cuts, somewhere between cinema verite and a tone poem. The collection of
short stories opens with a sense of sambas and saudade and ends with classical
suite (“Moldy Strawberries” with the sections, Prelude, Allegro Agitado, Adagio
Sostenuto, Andante Ostinato, and Minuet and Rondo), that begins with the taste
of fruit going bad, but ends with a reflection on the possibility of growing
strawberries in one’s own garden. The ending is life-affirming, which is a
relief, because through the stories, the reader experienced harrowing
encounters in a world that denies gay sexuality, and in doing so, creates
cruelty, hypocrisy and obsession.
— Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.
Susan Smith Nash, Ph.D.