Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 564
Dourado has been likened to Faulkner and this comparison helps to give the English-language reader some idea of his work, although it must be qualified by emphasizing the distinctly Latin, indeed Iberian, nature of Dourado's imagination. Like Faulkner, Dourado is not a novelist of contemporary city life … but of small-town and rural life in the provinces, specifically the upland state of Minas Gerais where he comes from. Minas Gerais is to Dourado what Mississippi was to Faulkner, and out of his home state Dourado has created an equivalent of Yoknapatawpha. If Dourado's work is regional, it is regional in the same way that Faulkner's is: he is a poetic and symbolist novelist who transforms the particulars of the everyday world into the universals of myth and tragedy.
In The Voices of the Dead Dourado examines the fate of a wealthy, landowning family over three generations, especially its last representative, the unmarried but still young Dona Rosalina. The main events concerning Rosalina occur early in this century, but Dourado interweaves these with frequent reminders of the different nineteenth-century milieus of her grandfather and father, both of whom continue to impinge on Rosalina after their deaths. Rosalina's decaying baroque manor house,… is virtually a house of the dead and she is its prisoner. In terms of Brazilian history, Rosalina may be interpreted as a relic of the old order of the Empire, which gave way to a Republic in 1889.
Like Faulkner, Dourado is a writer of complex and elaborate prose. In The Voices of the Dead, third-person (sometimes first-person) narration, dialogue, and internal monologue flow into each other without the usual signs of demarcation, but with disturbingly unexpected changes of tense. One effect is to break down normal chronological assumptions so that past and present virtually co-exist. Another is to introduce relativism into the main narration, since the narrator is not a static, omniscient presence but a shifting, chameleon one: sometimes detached, sometimes involved, sometimes choric. He can be the voice of the community, gossipy and voyeuristic; an objective observer; and a much more sympathetic voice, responsive to the tragic decline as the family saga unfolds.
At the level of story, little happens, and that very slowly. José Feliciano (Joey Bird), a bastard mulatto and roving jack-of-all-trades, arrives at the town and obtains work as a handyman in Rosalina's house, where she lives with her servant Quiquina in almost total seclusion…. The narrative concentrates very largely on these three characters, charting the gradual development of a relationship between totally different misfits, Rosalina and Joey Bird, its dramatic transformation into an affair, her pregnancy, the birth and disposal of the baby, his departure, and her final breakdown into permanent madness, a kind of death. The last clock is stopped. Dourado's blending of illicit love, sexuality, death, and insanity is both baroque and, as the ambiguous Portuguese title indicates, operatic.
A book as rich in myth and symbolism as The Voices of the Dead … lends itself to a variety of interpretations. Even the characters are conceived symbolically as well as realistically…. However, what makes this novel so difficult for British readers is not its symbolism as such but its baroque idiom, pace, and intensity, which are far removed from our own novel tradition.
Peter Lewis, "Stopping the Clock," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1981; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 4061, January 30, 1981, p. 122.
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