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Thursday, April 28, 2022

Moldy Strawberries by Caio Fernando Abreu: Dangerous Self-Knowledge

Abreu, Caio 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 connection. 


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.


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