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valter hugo mãe: o apocalipse dos trabalhadores [The Apocalypse of the Workers]

Maria da Graça is a cleaner working for the seventy-six year old Mr. Ferreira. Maria da Graça is forty and has been married to Augusto for seventeen years. Augusto is a fisherman and has to go off for six month fishing expeditions off the coast of Mauritania. However, when he is home, Maria da Graça is not very happy with him. Indeed, she puts bleach in his soup, not to kill but just enough to give him stomach upsets so that he won’t bother her. With Mr Ferreira, she has learned a lot. Though he plays classical music, which, on the whole, she does not like, particularly the requiem masses he likes, she admits that she has learned a lot from him – about Mozart, about Goya, about Proust and about Bergman (he makes her watch Cries and Whispers). Indeed, he is always educating her, which she appreciates. However, he also tries first to kiss her and then, when her resistance is limited, have sex with her. She is very resentful at being sexually assaulted by her employer in this way and is critical of him (to herself), yet, at the same time, she is very flattered and is falling in love with him. Indeed, her regular dreams of arriving at the gates of paradise, where all too often she has problems, very much involve Mr. Ferreira.

Her best friend, Quitéria, is fairly critical of Mr. Ferreira and his behaviour but she is also critical of Augusto. Quitéria prefers younger men and, though she enjoys performing oral sex on these men, she also does it for money. She also works occasionally as a professional mourner and sometimes takes Maria da Graça along to help her. They can earn fifty euros for being mourners at a funeral and one hundred for an all-night wake (during which they sleep). Then one day Andriy arrives. Andriy is Ukrainian. He is the only child of Ekaterina and Sasha. Sasha has mental problems, believing that he has killed a man and that the Ukrainian authorities are out to get him and his family for this. Andriy and Ekaterina manage to save up enough money to enable Andriy to escape Ukraine, as there is no work in Korosten, where they live, and the situation is grim. He had met a Russian in Korosten who had put him in touch with Mikhalkov, another Russian, who is working in Portugal and that is where Andriy goes. His first year, on Mikhalkov’s advice he spends all his earnings on beer, to dull the pain of his absence from home and family but then realises this is stupid. He meets Quitéria and they start an affair. Andriy has managed to find a job in a pizzeria, primarily because the (female) owner thinks that he is a good-looking boy but he soon changes, working on a building site, where he is better paid.

However, things develop on all fronts. Mr. Ferreira dies, apparently by suicide, throwing himself out of an upstair’s window. The police investigate and the woman police officer who is dealing with this case is quite aggressive with Maria da Graça, particularly when she finds out that Maria da Graça has been sleeping with Mr. Ferreira, suspecting an ulterior motive. She continues to question Maria da Graça during the course of the book, particularly when she finds money hidden around the house. Maria da Graça has to find various odd cleaning jobs to replace the income from Mr. Ferreira, as no-one can afford a full-time cleaner. She also has trouble with St Peter in her dreams as she now insists that she was in love with Mr Ferreira and St Peter cannot believe that someone can die from love and will not let her. Quitéria, however, thinks she is well rid of him. With Augusto set to return, Maria da Graça is thinking about increasing the dosage of bleach. Andriy has his problems as his parents stop writing and we learn that things are not going well with Sasha’s paranoia. He is thinking of returning home and Quitéria is thinking of accompanying him, though her long-lost sister, Glorinha, has suddenly turned up.

Mãe tells another story about ordinary people looking for their little bit of paradise, whether it is a happy relationship or dying of love and going to heaven. While it is not as overtly political as some of his other work, he still manages to make his point. The police are criticised for their aggression towards Maria da Graça and making the assumption that a poor person must be up to no good. Religion is shown as shallow, with the mourners at funerals all being paid (and falling asleep during an all-night vigil). The rich man – Mr Ferreira – is seen as exploiting the poor woman sexually. The repressive and depressive situation in Ukraine is shown clearly. In short, as the title implies, this is about the ordinary person, struggling to survive and trying to aim a bit higher and sometimes succeeding and sometimes failing. As such it is another fine novel from mãe.

Publishing history

First published 2008 by QuidNovi
No English translation
Published in French as L’apocalypse des travailleurs by Métailié in 2013
Translated by bDanielle Schramm
Published in Italian as L’apocalisse dei lavoratori by Cavallo di ferro in 2010
Translated by Antonietta Tessaro and Romana Petri
Published in Spanish as El apocalipsis de los trabajadores by Alpha Decay in 2010
Translated by Martín López-Vega