by Miguel Del Castillo
translated from the Portuguese by Amanda Hopkinson
Originally published in Granta 121: The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists

Violeta,” like “Animals,” appears to be another story that takes the author’s biography as its foundation, though I found “Violeta” much less conventional than “Animals.” Here we meet another child of immigrant parents. In this case, the parents fled to Brazil from Uruguay, seemingly wanting to leave it all behind. Miguel, the narrator, learned Spanish on his own and was basically unaware of his family’s history until later in life.

As it turns out, he was named after one of his father’s cousins, Miguel Angel, “a Tupamaro who disappeared during the military dictatorship in Uruguay.” He has an aunt, Violeta. Here’s how we are introduced to her:

Violeta, Miguel Angel’s mother, was taken prisoner more than once because of her son’s subversive activities, her head inside water barrels, the soldiers provoking while undressing her

— She doesn’t look all that old after all

gripping her tightly, telling her that her son had been captured, that they were torturing him nearly to death but still he wouldn’t reveal anything, so she’d better spill the beans.

That type of interjection is common, though not overused, in this short story, as the past and present, the safe distance of telling the story and the deadly fact that this really happened, collide and interplay in terrible ways.

Miguel comes to know Violeta — she calls him “Miguelito” — before she descends into Alzheimer’s and eventually dies, and throughout it all he asks, “Who was Violeta?”

This story is very short, which makes it all the more remarkable that it fits so much into its various layers. Here’s hoping more of Miguel Del Castillo’s work finds its way to us in English.

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