"Animals" by Michel Laub translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa Originally published in Granta 121: The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists
Divided into twenty-four short, single-paragraphed segments, “Animals” might be drawn, at least somewhat, from the author’s own biography and it certainly reads like a reflective essay on family, friends, and loss, beginning in the first segment: “When I was eleven years old and living in Porto Alegre, my dog Champion was killed by our neighbour’s Doberman.”
It was his father who cracked the news and did what he could to comfort his son. This wouldn’t be the first time. Over their younger years, three of the narrator’s friends die suddenly, two of them violently, and we know that his father has also recently died. Strangely, it all goes back to that dog, and the narrator hasn’t cried about any of the losses since, as if loss has become routine in some way, though of course it hasn’t.
Another interesting piece of the story is the father’s history, which as a child the narrator barely knew anything about. In fact, even as an adult there are surprising gaps in what our narrator knows about his father:
In 1937, when my father was six, he and his mother had to leave Germany because of the Nazis. His father — my grandfather — emigrated to Israel with the older daughter. My father only saw his sister again in 1970 when he went to visit my grandfather. Despite being in the hospital with terminal cancer, my grandfather refused to see someone who he considered a turned page. All because my father, when still a child, had failed to reply to letters sent to him in Brazil. My father only told me this in 2007 when I was already living in São Paulo, during a brief conversation we had while waiting for a taxi on Alameda Itu.
“Animals” is a nice way to enter into this collection. On the surface, it felt a bit conventional, but rereading it I realized just how seemingly haphazard the twenty-four segments appear to be organized — one going here, the next going there, all jumping back and forth in time — but all coming together nicely to show the inevitability of loss. Already, a young Brazilian author to look for.