Translated from Portuguese by Sylvia Glaser
“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…[H]e complained that the deceased, thinking he was drafting his will, had instead written down his memoirs.”
Which is exactly what he has done, in a hefty tome of 378 pages. People in his town of Mindelo, the port city on the island of Sāo Vicente in Cabo Verde, think of Senhor Napumoceno da Silva Araújo as a successful businessman who lived a quiet life and was so frugal that he bought a new suit only every two years. An orphan, he was a self-made man, upright, who never had any love affairs, and never married. His only family was his nephew Carlos, whom he raised and who had done well in the family firm, and who, quite naturally, expected to inherit. The reading of the will puts paid to all those ideas: Sr. Araújo disinherits his nephew Carlos for some perceived slight and leaves his entire fortune—except for some bequests and the old house, which he leaves to Carlos—to his illegitimate daughter, Maria da Graça. Until the bequest, Graça had no idea she was his daughter.
From the reading of the so-called will, it turns out that Araújo wasn’t the quiet, frugal man that people believed he was. He liked women and had affairs, including one with his maid Dona Chicha that resulted in Graça. When Graça, desperately trying to understand her father, starts reading his diaries, she learns about the passionate affair he had with Adélia, a woman much younger than him with whom he falls madly in love. Araújo leaves Adélia a book in his will but no one can find her, although Graça tries. Who was she? What happened to her? Did she even exist?
The book looks back at Araújo’s life, both through the will and the notebooks. The portrait that emerges is of a well-meaning man but a bit hapless. His big success as a business is a fluke: he places an order for 1,000 umbrellas but receives 10,000 because he added an extra zero to the order by mistake. He is horrified when the shipment arrives: it is a lot of money to spend on something that he will have a hard time selling—after all, it almost never rains in Mindelo. But soon after he receives the umbrellas, it pours, and he sells his entire stock, making a fortune.
This description of his half-hearted attempt to marry captures his character.
“[H]aving moved, he began to feel the weight of his solitude, and yet also a certain laziness about coming down from the hilltop; he’d put on a few pounds and it was getting difficult to make the climb. So he’d arrive home exhausted from work and from the walk up and he would sit in the living room which was still sparsely furnished or else in the canvas chair that he’d placed on the porch thinking he needed a woman but making no move to find one. And in that daily rhythm years and more years passed, with him always saying to himself that he needed to marry, but he settled in alone and didn’t marry and he met Dona Joia and made up his mind too late and so he did nothing because meanwhile he was occupied with other matters.”
This is more of a novella than a novel. It is a gentle book and an easy read.
Note: This book was translated into Spanish, German, French, Italian, Dutch, Norwegian and Swedish before being translated into English.