Good Offices: First Reviews
Here are some of the first reviews for Good Offices, all at this stage for the (identical in terms of text) American edition, which is being published by New Directions. Anne McLean, who translated The Armies, worked with a co-translator for Good Offices, Anna Milsom, who is interviewed here. Click here to read an extract from the novel.
In Poetics, that ancient didact Aristotle informs us that admirable drama adheres to unities of action, place, and time. There must be no extraneous subplots, just one central action confined to a specific and defined place and time—no more than 24 hours, in fact.
I was reminded of these (oft-broken) rules when reading Evelio Rosero’s Good Offices, a sharp, gleaming novel that illustrates just how effective these classical unities might be in the hands of a gifted author. Rosero’s tale snakes out over the course of only a few hours and takes place entirely in a Catholic church in Bogotá, Colombia. The action—more on that in a moment—is indivisible from the time and place.
Good Offices centers on Tancredo, a hunchback afflicted with “a terrible fear of being an animal.” Tancredo is basically an indentured servant of the church, strung along by Father Almida’s promises of a college education that never seems to surface. His great “cross to bear” is the program of Community Meals that Father Almida mandates (yet never helps execute) each night—charity meals for children, old people, blind people, whores, and families (all segregated by day of the week, naturally). In particular, Tancredo hates the nights for the old people, indigents who complain about the free food and then pretend to be dead so they don’t have to go back to the dark streets of Bogotá. Sometimes they do die though, and it’s Tancredo who must discover their abject corpses.
Read the full review at Biblioklept.org
Three Per Cent Review
Evelio Rosero’s first novel to be translated into English since his award-winning The Armies takes place on a much smaller scale than that hallucinatory story about the damaging effects of civil war in Colombia. Good Offices, lighter in tone and slighter than The Armies, documents the events of a single day in a single location: a Catholic church in Bogotá. The tale is told through the eyes of Tancredo, a young man with a hunchback, who assists the priest of the church, Father Almida, as an occasional acolyte but mainly by running the daily free lunches the church offers to the city’s neediest residents: “Tuesdays for the blind, Mondays for the whores, Fridays for families, Wednesdays for the street kids, Saturdays and Sundays for God, or so says the priest.”
Tancredo and Father Almida not only work at the church but live in its presbytery, along with Machado, the sacristan; Sabina, Machado’s goddaughter; and “the three Lilias,” a clutch of women who run the household and who have come to resemble one another so closely that they go by the same name. The novel opens on a Thursday afternoon, “when it’s the old people’s turn” to be served lunch, and Tancredo has just finished kicking out the last of the diners. The anger he feels at their insistence on remaining in the church hall long past the end of the meal stirs in him “a terrible fear of being an animal,” although he is for the most part a mild-mannered, studious, and obedient servant of the church.
Read the full review at Three Percent
BOMB Magazine ran an interview with Evelio Rosero by Antonio Ungar last year, which is well worth a look:
Antonio Ungar You spent part of your childhood in the upper Andes, in the south of Colombia. Tell me whether your literature has been affected by the city of Pasto and the geography of the region of Nariño.
Evelio Rosero Yes, of course. Childhood is the most formative stage in a writer’s life, or anyone’s. Especially the villages I’ve depicted in my novels, I’ve noticed—after the writing—correspond to the memory of those villages in the Andes that my family used to visit. So, in my fiction, their description is linked to an ancestral memory: their rural spaces and atmospheres, their indigenous faces, their geographical and human abysses, is unconscious.
AU Many of your books are for a young readership and yet, in some of your novels—in En el lejero (In the distance) and in some scenes of The Armies—groups of children are threatening creatures; they chase the protagonists, throw stones at them, make fun of them. In The Armies, a group of kids plays with a grenade and threatens to physically annihilate one of the main characters. Why? Are these just coincidences that aren’t worth spending too much time on?
ER Children are also threatening in some of my “children’s books.” Cruelty in children is a reality, just like their innocence. I am aware of all these passions, as elemental as they might be, when writing—whether a children’s story, or a full-length novel. When I write for children, or when I used to write, because I seem to have lost the joy in doing this, I don’t think I’m addressing marvelous, winged creatures. As a boy I suffered, as children suffer in this life, as intensely or more so than grown-ups. The coincidence that you point out to me seems, for this reason, very important. It had puzzled me that no one else seemed to have noticed.
Read the full interview at BOMB Magazine