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Victor Rangel-Ribeiro: Tivolem

The heroine of this novel, Marie-Santana, has returned to her native Tivolem, a fictitious island off the coast of Goa, the former Portuguese colony of India but, at the time of the story – 1933 – still very much a Portuguese colony. She had left when a child when her parents had emigrated to Mozambique, another Portuguese colony. There, her father had built up a business, which was taken over by his wife, when he died and then by Maria-Santana when her mother died. Neither of the women knew much about business so the manager was able to take advantage of them. This was not helped by the fact that Marie-Santana fell in love with him, so she was doubly take advantage of. In the end, she managed to sell and pay off her debts but left Mozambique with very little money. She is returning to live with her grandmother, Angelinh’, whom she has not seen nor, indeed, contacted for many years.

But this book is essentially both a love story as well as a story of a fairly isolated community, how the inhabitants interact with one another and how they face up to the real world outside, which has an annoying habit of encroaching on their lives. There are several other returnees like Marie-Santana. Simon Fernandes went with his parents to Kuala Lumpur, where his father had a job, playing music. Simon learnt to pay the violin when young and became quite skilled, so much so that he played with his father’s band. But his real interest was in classical music and he joined the amateur Kuala Lumpur Symphony, soon becoming its youngest concert-master. He has continued to play the violin. He became a civil servant and had a successful career though, to his parents’ chagrin, never married, despite the fact they they introduced him to several eligible prospects. His other major interest was stamp-collecting, specialising in stamps from the British Empire, which are meticulously sorted and put in albums. He had visited the family home on Tivolem only once, when it was occupied by a cousin. However, when he now returns, he finds that the cousin has abandoned the home and the roof has collapsed. He finds a suitable rented house, which is relatively remote, so that he can practise the violin. It is, of course, next door to Angelinh’, so that he and Marie-Santana see each other regularly. Senhor Eusebio is another unmarried returnee, having spent much of his adult life in the Gulf States. He had not earned much but had never married and, as there was nothing to spend money on, he had saved up a lot of money to buy up land and build a house, which is not really in keeping with the architectural style of the neighbouring houses. As Eusebio has a radio, he gets the news and shares it with the men’s group that regularly meets in the evening for a chat and, in this way, we follow developments elsewhere, particularly in Germany.

Simon Fernandes had a brother, John. John was light-skinned and blond, so much so that his father doubted the fidelity of his wife. She was, it seems faithful, but understands his concern and wonders how this throwback occurred. John is badly behaved, and always in trouble. He is close to his mother but does not get on with either his father or brother. The day his mother dies, he leaves the house, never to return, telling his father, as he leaves, that he is not his son. We soon learn, though the characters do not, that the man Marie-Santana had the relationship with in Mozambique is this John, albeit using a different surname, namely Fernshaw. Of course, the women of the area are soon match-making urging Simon, Marie-Santana and Eusebio to get married and offer various candidates, which are all rejected.

Of course, we get a variety of other colourful events – from the man who does a dry run of his own funeral, including lying down in the coffin, with candles to the appropriately named Lazarinho. Lazarinho is a sneak thief who has recently been released from prison but has not reformed and makes a habit of stealing what he can, though all too often he gets caught. When he steals from the church, he is so badly beaten that the rumour is spread that he has died but he lives (pun intended) up to his name. For Marie-Santana, the worse thing that happens is that she is accused of giving the evil eye to people, crops and animals. Overall, it is a colourful and lively tale, even if somewhat predictable in its outcome, with a lively cast of characters and loads of local colour.

Publishing history

First published 1998 by Milkweed Editions