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Mario de Carvalho

God Strolling In The Cool Of the Evening, A (tr)
Louisiana State University Press, 1997
Barnes & Noble


This novel, first published in Portuguese in 1994, is set in the Roman province of Lusitania (now Portugal) in the third century AD. Lucius Valerius Quintius is chief magistrate of the town of Tarcisis, which is threatened by Moorish invasion from the outside and from the 'congregation of the fish' (the dangerously subversive Christians) on the inside. From the wistful perspective of his old age, Quintius reflects on the turbulent events of the momentous year 213 and his own handling of them. We see him as a humane and conscientious man struggling to do his best under difficult circumstances. This was a time of change and uncertainty, when Rome was beginning to lose both her confidence and her powerful sense of destiny. Tarcisis is a microcosm of the Empire. Like Rome herself, it is a victim of both external hostile forces and internal moral breakdown. In a short introductory note, the author denies that this is a historical novel, on the rather dubious grounds that Tarcisis never existed. In truth it is a historical novel simply because it is (very convincingly) set in a real historical time and place. But it is much more than that: it can also be read as an allegory for our time. We observe striking parallels between Quintius, the epitome of the traditional stern Roman struggling to uphold the virtues of his ancestors in an age of political, social and moral upheaval, and his modern counterparts, ourselves, living like him in an age of frighteningly rapid and uncontrollable change that threatens to undermine the very foundations of our society. Like him, we strive assiduously to do the right thing. Like him, we are hamstrung by disillusionment and self-doubt. If this all seems rather heavy-going, it is. This book, which won the 1996 Pegasus Prize, is very much a novel of ideas; there is no light relief and very little humour or emotional engagement. Although the author (a lawyer by profession) handles his themes adroitly, he is rather ponderous and heavy-handed with what little action there is, and the characters, apart from the memorable Quintius, are less than fully rounded. The translation, by Gregory Rabassa (best known for his brilliant Englishing of Marques), is competent rather than inspired, evidently reflecting the nature of the original. I wish I could have liked it better. - Sarah Cuthbertson From The Historical Novel Review (August 1998), published by the Historical Novel Society.

- Sarah Cuthbertson, 11/27/2005

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