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International Novels Unearth Family Secrets and Nature’s Mysteries

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Several forms of delirium — desire, idealism, grief — infect the privileged family of “Antonio,” a novel by the Brazilian writer Bracher. Benjamim, a soon-to-be father, has come to São Paulo to learn more about his own father, Teodoro, who ended up homeless among “the immiserated, the favela dwellers, the landless people.”

Benjamim turns to three main witnesses for answers, and they don’t always agree. His grandmother, Isabel, proud matriarch of the Kremz family, has one version. “We’re not literature, my dear,” she warns him. “It’s much more complicated than a love story.” Raul, Teodoro’s closest friend from his youth, has his own take. And Haroldo, a former colleague of Benjamim’s grandfather Xavier, is still clouded by his feelings for Isabel and resentment of Raul.

What Benjamim discovers, however, is enough to mess with anyone’s head. Teodoro and Xavier, his father and grandfather, both fell madly in love — and had children — with the same woman, Elenir. Xavier married her when she was just a teenager in 1950, but had a mental breakdown when their infant child died.

Unaware of his father’s past, Teodoro encounters Elenir years later while roaming the sertão, or backlands, in the late 1970s. But, again, tragedy strikes, and Teodoro’s collapse is complete. “Sleeping with your father’s woman: Can anyone stand it without gouging his eyes out and being condemned to wander?” Raul asks. As in her novel “I Didn’t Talk” (also elaborately translated by Morris), Bracher brilliantly picks away at the web of secrets and lies plaguing a family and country.

By Andrea Bajani
Translated by Elizabeth Harris
200 pp. Archipelago. Paper, $18.

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