Cristhiano Aguiar’s “Teresa” (tr. from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn) is the seventh story in Granta 121: The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists. For an overview of the issue and links to my reviews of its other stories, please click here.
So far this is the strangest and most unconventional of the stories in this issue of Granta. I was engaged throughout, but I cannot make sense of it yet.
Aguiar’s central story is about a woman named Teresa who has lost her husband, Petrúcio, in what appears to be a mudslide. Everything was washed together. Only a piece of wall and one of Teresa’s books survived. Now Teresa is housed in some kind of care-giving facility. At night, her son comes to take her to her room and prop the surviving book in her lap.
We don’t know what book this is, but somehow — perhaps from the book — Teresa tells stories that mix elements from ancient texts such as the Old Testament, The Aeneid, and The Odyssey. The principal character in her story is Prince Elias, who is raised by a lion, defeats a cyclops, raises a dead child, and destroys a city.
Mixed into Teresa’s story is the story of Teresa and Petrúcio. After they were married, Petrúcio went away for three years while Teresa, like Penelope, remained faithful despite the various suitors. However, when Petrúcio returns, he and Teresa are unable to emotionally connect. He was present, finally, and kind:
Despite this, some people commented that his words and gestures were lacking in spontaneity, as though the past were slowly, but stubbornly, pulling Petrúcio’s arm towards a story hidden under the carpet, an unfinished story.
What is this unfinished story? How does it relate to Teresa’s own story and her own confused past: “Her dreams these past days are upside-down memories, hanging by the heel.” It’s all mixed together, answers perhaps covered in mud. There may be no other answer other than the messiness of the past and its ability to destroy the present.