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Rodrigo de Souza: Todos os Cachorros São Azuis (All Dogs are Blue)

Novels about insanity are not unusual. There are quite a few on this site, including, but not limited to Eduardo Mendoza‘s El laberinto de las aceitunas (Olive Labyrinth), Jon Fosse‘s Melancholia I (Melancholy), Kyūsaku Yumeno‘s ドグラマグラ [Dogra Magra], Vladimir Sharov‘s До и во время (Before and During), Sara Stridsberg‘s Beckomberga: Ode till min familj (Gravity of Love), ‘s Irre (Insanity), György (George) Konrád‘s Cinkos (The Loser), Cristina Rivera-Garza‘s Nadie me verá llorar (No One Will See Me Cry) and, perhaps, most famously, Ken Kesey‘s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Most of them, of course, are fairly miserable.

Rodrigo de Souza suffered from mental health issues. He rarely left his house and communicated online. He died of a heart attack when he was forty-three, a year after this book was published. The book recounts the mental health issues of an unnamed narrator, told from the perspective of an inmate in a mental institution.

Our narrator is thirty-six while recounting his story but has had mental health issues since the age of fifteen. His most recent hospitalisation has taken place as a result of smashing up his parents’ home. They felt obliged to call the police and he was taken to a psychiatric hospital. His mother felt that he had behaved the way he did because he did not take his Haldol. He blames the Haldol for his problems.

Taking pills is key to mental health treatment and, initially, he is clever enough to hide them under his tongue and not swallow them. They will later realise he is doing this and give him injections. He hoards the pills and will later take several of them at once.

However, it is not just pills. He is convinced that he has swallowed a computer chip. My own case (swallowing a chip) was only possible thanks to the CIA and the KGB. Initially, he thought he had swallowed a cricket but is now convinced it was a chip.

Aliens were going to come back and get him but had not yet come. Indeed, he says that he was abducted by aliens when he was a child. I saw a light shining through my five-year-old body and held on tight to my blue dog.

His blue dog is a stuffed dog he is close to. (Just because he was blue doesn’t mean he was gay.) He likes the blue dog’s company more than anyone else’s. It is not just the dog that is blue. A lot of medicines are blue, including Haldol. I take Haldol to be under no illusions that I’ll die mad one day, somewhere dirty, without any food. Colour is one of his obsessions. Everything went blue. Blue kiskadees, blue roses, blue ballpoint pens, the troglodyte nurses. He has similar obsessions with other colours.

The comment about the dog not being gay very much applies to him. He frequently masturbates, he tells us, and we know of some of the women he is excited by, including the nurse, his former psychiatrist and Nastassja Kinski.

His two imaginary friends are, however, male. They are Rimbaud and Baudelaire, the French poets. Rimbaud was admitted for drugs. He limps a little. Must be in his forties and e doesn’t know how to get out of his messes on his own. I always have to step in and save him. Rimbaud is, presumably, gay, as our narrator says that Rimbaud is in love with him, while he only wants friendship and that Rimbaud has AIDS. Baudelaire, however, only came round every once in a while. Our narrator describes him as a moody git.

He does talk about the other patients, particularly the poor people. There were all these poor people, really poor people: this was Brazil. A total mess. People lying on the floor. People dead on arrival. People dying. A row of bodies with tagged feet. In particular there is the Fearsome Madman. He spat wherever he wanted, pissed wherever he wanted, crapped wherever he wanted, challenged the nurses to fights. However, he is afraid of our narrator.
I held out my hand for Fearsome Madman to shake. Fearsome acted like he didn’t see me. I went after him.
Why won’t you shake my hand?
You’re Daddy. And Daddy beats me.

Fearsome Madman later dies, possibly killed. Rimbaud accuses our narrator of having killed him and our narrator tells us that the place is crawling with detectives, interviewing everyone. Eventually they leave having come up with nothing concrete.

He is eventually released and proceeds to create a new religion called Todog. The religion is a huge success. They have their own language (of which we get samples). Then a crazy Todog fundamentalist claims to be Todog and shoots our narrator. he died and Todog died with him, he says. Or did he?

The book really goes in some detail into the mind of a man who is clearly suffering mental health issues, wondering who he is, where he is, what is happening to him and even if he is still alive (In the outside world I look for my name in the obituaries every day). He is aware of his madness – I was possessed by a fertile spirit of modern madness, one that had helped twentieth-century poetry many times and had put contemporary literature in its rightful place. At times he is unhappy there – A place like the asylum was a sign that God didn’t exist. Or that he existed, and didn’t care about who was inside that little hell – and at times happier – Insane asylums are really nice places, with lots of flowers and trees.

He is often aware of what is happening, of his parents lying to him, about the poor food, about the suffering of the poor in Brazil and of his antipathy to the fundamentalist Christians who come to the asylum and preach, though this may spill over into paranoia (Governments do so many things to destroy the lives of those who are a nuisance to them.) Ultimately, however, he is lost in his own world, with aliens and blue and a feeling of being lost.

Publishing history

First published in 2008 by 7Letras
First English translation in 2013 by And Other Stories
Translated by Zoë Perry & Stefan Tobler