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Autran Dourado: Opera dos mortos (The Voices of the Dead)

The manor house in the town is owned by Colonel Honório Cota. The colonel was a tough man but now he has been replaced by his son, also Colonel Honório Cota. The new colonel is not as tough as his father but politically more ambitious. He extends the house and runs for office. And that is his mistake for the local political machine easily beats him. The defeat leaves him depressed and, eventually, he becomes ill and dies, leaving the house to his spinster daughter, Rosalina. Rosalina stops the clocks, shuts up the house and lives alone with her mute servant, Quiquina.

One day, José Feliciano, known to all as Joey Bird, arrives with his chequered past. But he manages to ingratiate himself with Rosalina and is soon helping doing odd jobs in the house. However, he keeps to his place – visiting the whores and getting drunk for his amusement. However, he is observing Rosalina and he soon discovers that she is a secret drinker. One day he boldly enters her apartment when Quiquina has fallen asleep at the kitchen table and they are just getting friendly when Quiquina reappears. He makes a hurried escape and the next day he is ignored but he soon ventures back and they start an affair, ending in Rosalina’s pregnancy. But, of course, José Feliciano cannot marry Rosalina and they cannot have a child together.

Dourado tells a relatively uncomplicated story through the different eyes of the participants – the colonel, Rosalina, Quiquina and José Feliciano – and the effect of the changing perceptions is particularly effective. We see Rosalina, in the eyes of others, as a demure and boring spinster but, in her own eyes, she is a somewhat, frightened, delicate woman with hidden passions that come to the surface only later on in the novel. And Dourado really has the ability to get into the minds of his characters as well as to write some wonderful passages such as the seduction scene between José and Rosalina where he is deliberately ambiguous as to who is taking the lead. Outwardly realistic, this novel, veering between the banal and the erotic, shows that the author is not unaware of the trends elsewhere in Latin America but is still very much his own man.

Publishing history

First published 1967 by Civilização Brasileira
First published in English 1980 by Peter Owen
Translated by John M. Parker