The journalist and author Lucy Popescu has written a very impressive review of Good Offices on the, frankly excellent, cultural resource for Latin America and the Caribbean latineos.com.
The Catholic Church has had a bad press of late with a series of damaging child-abuse scandals and shameful cover-ups. Its opposition to contraception and abortion, its subjugation of women and its homophobia have also come under fire.
Evelio Rosero, prize-winning author of The Armies, offers a unique take on the Catholic Church’s institutional failings in this surreal portrait of one of its Colombian outposts.
Rosero’s colourful cast of characters will remain in your memory long after the final page is turned, particularly those whose outward appearance belies their inner turmoil. Sabina is described as a “tempestuous spirit locked inside [a] fragile blonde body”. While the Lilies are introduced as suitably devout, indistinguishable from one another, “dressed in black, their Sunday best, the three of them with trimmed hats, veils and Missals, patent leather shoes, their hands redolent of onions, their breath smelling of various dishes, in their eyes the flames still lingered, the fatigue from mincing meat and garlic, from squeezing lemons…” Later, under the sway of Matamoros, their repressed fury is unleashed.
Just as The Armies depicted the chaos that erupts in a rural town besieged by violence, Good Offices focuses on a small, insular community, in order to highlight a wider malaise. Rosero’s evocative prose is lucidly translated by Anne Mclean and Anna Milsom, and his darkly comic satire hits its mark with an unsettling ferocity.
Read the full review over at Latineos
This month should be a good one for devotees of Latin American Literature: the third Festival of Ibero-American Literature will be taking place between the 14th and 18th November in the the Charing Cross branch of Foyles Bookshop. And, rather thrillingly, there will be an Evelio Rosero event on the very first day:
MONDAY 14TH NOVEMBER, 18.30
“AN INSIGHT INTO THE WORK OF EVELIO ROSERO”
Award-winning Colombian author Evelio Rosero has written seven novels, two collections of short stories as well as several children’s books. The Armies won the 2006 Tusquets International Novel Prize and the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2009; in Colombia, he was awarded the National Literature Prize. Join us for a short film about the author followed by a panel discussion on his latest novel Good Offices, a coruscating satire of the Catholic Church recently published in English by MacLehose Press to great acclaim.
Maya Jaggi, award-winning cultural journalist and critic
Anna Milsom, co-translator of Evelio Rosero’s Good Offices
Amanda Hopkinson, Professor of literary translation and translator from Spanish, French and Portuguese
Admission is free but tickets are limited. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to book your place. You can check out the other events on the flier below (click to enlarge).
Another wonderful blog review for Evelio Rosero’s Good Offices, this time from the Milo’s Rambles blog.
One thing became clear to me early on – while reading Good Offices by Evelio Rosero – was its fluidity. Reading such a beautiful and energetic translation – by Anne McLean and Anna Milson – I lost myself in its simplicity and free flowing narrative. I felt as if Rosero was conducting a small orchestra, a solo violin performance, or perhaps I was sitting at the theatre where one solitary voice spoke to me, just like an actor on stage reciting a monologue. Whatever the performance, be it classical or acting, I was spellbound and couldn’t put the book down finishing it in one sitting.
To me I imagined Rosero sitting down in his favourite writing chair, a glass of his favourite tipple in close proximity and writing the first thing that came to his head with a prose that simply flowed and flowed until the finality of its conclusion.
Good Offices oozes quality from the magnificent print, sumptuous prose and a high quality paper. Such a tactile book, even though it may be a little short on stature weighing in at just 142 pages, this is an elegant book – something you come to expect from MacLehose Press.
Read the rest of the review at www.milorambles.com
Evelio Rosero’s second novel in English translation, Good Offices, was published this month. His first novel in translation, The Armies, won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2009.
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
The Danish edition of The Armies has won the ALOA Prize that awards and promotes literature from Africa, Latin America, Oceania and Asia in Denmark. It is the third literary prize Rosero has won for the novel, following the Tusquets Editores Prize (2006) for a novel from the Spanish-speaking world and the UK’s Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (2009), which was shared with translator Anne McLean.
Chair of judges for the IFFP in 2009, Boyd Tonkin, literary editor of the Independent, said The Armies “not only laments the Colombian people’s tragedy but celebrates the universal but always fragile virtues of everyday life and speaks of terrible events with a precision and humanity that earn the reader’s affection as well as respect”. McLean’s translation, meanwhile, “captures every shade and nuance of this story in words that match gravity and grace”.
The Armies will be followed this year by Good Offices, also translated by Anne McLean, who is surely in line for Colombia’s highest honour by now for her ongoing work in translating her finest writers, this time in collaboration with Anna Milsom. A very different animal from The Armies, Good Offices is an ever so slightly surreal satire on the iniquities of the Catholic Church in Colombia that nevertheless carries sinister undertones as it twists towards a quietly shocking conclusion. It will be published in September.