Luiz Ruffato: O verão tardio (Late Summer)
Our hero/narrator is Oseias Moretto Nunes. Like the author, he was born in Cataguases, a small town in Minas Gerais, which can get very hot and be subject to flooding. He had left at a fairly early age and gone to São Paulo. There he had met and married Marília and they had a son. He made his living selling agricultural products, travelling round by car for long periods.
From what we can tell, his life was not a particularly happy one. Marília refused to his visit his family in Cataguases, so his mother never met either her daughter-in-law or grandson. Marília started an affair and then left him. He did not get on with his son and has had no contact with him for some time. After his divorce, he lost interest in his work. They kept him on for a while but eventually let him go – albeit in a gentle way. He was unable to find other work. He then started feeling ill and went to the doctor. He was told he had only six months to live. (We do not learn what the illness is but we do see him having difficulty keeping his food down.)
We start the novel with his return to Cataguases. He seems to have fainted on the bus but does recover. It is hot – he has problems with the heat – so he goes to the bus station snack bar to get something to drink. He recognises the server as someone he was at school with but when he mentions it, the server is abusive. This will set the tone for the rest of the novel. He will meet various people he used to know. While they are generally not abusive, they do not, with one exception, welcome him with open arms. This includes his family.
His parents are both dead. He had three sisters and a brother. The brother, João Lúcio, has made a lot of money and wants little to do with his family. His sister, Lígia, killed herself a long time ago. His sister Isabela (Isinha) lives on the outskirts of town but there is only limited contact between her and Rosana, his eldest sister.
Rosana is married to Ricardo. Ricardo is a loan shark, has dubious associates, health problems and numerous affairs, though Rosana says that, with his health, probably not much happens with the women. They have a daughter, Tamires. She has been something of a disappointment. They hoped she would go to university but, instead, she opened a deli with a boyfriend. The boyfriend has long since gone but she still – successfully – runs the deli. She also still lives with her parents, earning more than her mother, a school headmistress.
He will eventually visit both Isinha and João Lúcio. While both are quite welcoming, there is certainly no fatted calf for the returning prodigal, and it soon becomes apparent that neither – the first poor, the second rich – is particularly happy.
Much of the book is about Oseias wandering around the town, reminiscing about his childhood (not a happy one). He finds that the boy he sat next to at school is now the mayor (that crook is the epithet used by more than one person). he does, with a certain effort, get to see him but, while the mayor is friendly enough, he is also dismissive. Indeed of the various former acquaintances he does meet, only his former girlfriend, Marilda, shows any enthusiasm – indeed too much enthusiasm, which has Oseias fleeing as fast as he can.
Virtually no-one in this book is happy. Those couples that are not divorced/separated are unhappy in their marriage, often with at least one of the couple having affairs. Somewhat ironically, the few adults who do not have a relationship are eager to have one. Many are struggling financially. Families have fallen apart. Oseias’ son refuses to see him just as João Lúcio refused to see his father. Of the five siblings in Oseias’ family, one is dead and the other four have very little communication with one another.
The town itself – a real town, Ruffato’s hometown – is not a happy place either. It is too hot and there is often flooding. Crime, drugs and poverty all abound.
Ruffato paints a very bleak picture. There is no happy ending nor indeed, any happy beginning or middle. There are virtually no happy characters. Most people seem to have made something of a mess of heir life, one way or another, whether it is their romantic liaisons, their career, or their general life. The only happiness seems to be escape, though that did not work for Oseias. Rosana goes to the United States once a year to spend. Others talk about how they would like to go to Rio de Janeiro or São Paulo. In general they are stuck in and around Cataguases just trying to survive.
First published in 2019 by Companhia das Letras
First English translation in 2021 by Other Press
Translated by Julia Sanches