Read African Writers: The Last Will & Testament of Senhor da Silva Araújo, by Germano Almeida

last will and testamentcape verde“The reading of the last will and testament of Sr. Napumoceno da Silva Araújo ate up a whole afternoon. When he reached the one-hundred-and-fiftieth page, the notary admitted he was already tired and actually broke off to ask that someone bring him a glass of water.” So begins The Last Will & Testament of Senhor da Silva Araújo, Cape Verdean writer Germano Almeida‘s novel about the life of the titular character, translated to English by Sheila Faria Glaser. The book wanders through Almeida’s life and loves, and Almeida’s “refreshing voice and playful irony” (as Publisher’s Weekly put it) reminded me of the feel of Brazilian literature I’ve encountered, like Jorge Amado’s The Double Death of Quincas Water-Bray. Araújo works his way up from poverty and becomes a successful businessman, then an eccentric technophile, then an isolated writer. One of his initial business successes demonstrates the feel of the novel: Araújo accidentally orders 10,000 umbrellas rather than his intended 1,000 (and even that was “almost as a joke,” as there was little rain), writes an angry note to his supplier, but then an unprecedented, extended rainstorm allows him to sell all for great profit. The novel is filled with little anecdotes like this one. Araújo has some quirky ideas — for example on goodness and on intellectual property.

On goodness: “Carlos [Araújo’s nephew] has turned out to be an ungrateful relation and as the good man I am and always have been, I have the moral obligation never to forgive him.”
On intellectual property: “Sr. Napumoceno confessed that he’d laid claim to his nephew’s ideas as if they were his own, justifying it by noting that in truth it might well be said that they were, since if Carlos had ideas at all it was because he had sent him to school and then to Lisbon, and that it was even he, Napumoceno, who had gotten him a job…, so his nephew’s ideas were nothing more than the normal return on well-invested capital, and for this reason he considered himself the legitimate owner of any worthwhile notion born in that mind.”

Overall I enjoyed the novel (low on plot but high on interesting observations), although there is a confusing scene that seems like a rape but isn’t treated like a rape in the novel (page 64). The woman in the scene certainly seems unwilling, but after the initial event, the couple enters into a consensual relationship and there is a reference to an “entrapment charade” and to “why, if we both wanted it,” so it’s not entirely obvious whether the first encounter was part of the “charade.” My uncertainty about that scene colored my enjoyment of the novel, and I’m not the only one.

Here are a few lines that I found thought-provoking:
  • On purpose: “By nature and social position a humble man, he, Napumoceno, could not aspire to ending the turmoil of the planet. But here on this bit of earth, poor but beloved, he would like to contribute with all his strength to bringing a reign of harmony and peace, and, who knows, maybe even well-being, to the forsaken.”
  • On priorities: “No fortune is enough to make up for the loss of our peace and quiet.”
  • On sex: “Life is a naked woman lying on a bed, he’d read that, he no longer remembered where, and he had accepted this assertion as the unquestionable truth and for that reason he had a morbid fear of being impotent with a woman.”
  • On education and jobs:
    • “Only productive work linked to a basic education can free a man from darkness and misery.”
    • “He said that I had to be a man and that only books, only school, made men.”
  • On guidance: “Crickets sing to guide people, but poor things, more often than not they disorient us because they all sing at the same time, each one pulling you toward it, no one can find his way in the midst of that cacophony of calls.”
  • On reading: “He couldn’t quite determine when he’d acquired the vice of reading, because a bona fide vice it was, a sort of sedative opium that he took to recoup from both physical and spiritual exhaustion, and also from the annoyances of the day or the excitement of a deal.”
  • On lump sums versus annuities: One characters wishes her inheritance as a lump sum in order to start a chicken farm (p147), consistent with some thinking around cash transfer programs and less frequent, larger transfers being associated with investment rather than consumption.

This is book #24 in my effort to read a book by an author from every African country in 2019.

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