Thursday, January 15, 2015

First Impressions: Blood Drenched Beard by Daniel Galera translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin

Blood Drenched Beard is the fourth novel by Brazilian writer and translator (English to Portuguese) Daniel Galera. The 374 page book is the story of a young man who travels from Porto Alegre to Garopaba to investigate the mysterious death of his quiet, reclusive, athletic grandfather. The unnamed protagonist is also an athlete, a man of action, who has a neurological disorder related to a problem at birth. He is able to recognize faces only when the images are retained in short term memory that decay and are lost in about 30 seconds. Even if he pays attention and studies a face carefully, he cannot store the image in long term memory making it available for recognition later. This problem forces him to live in a short window of time for facial recognition of other people, and this suits his life of movement and action as a competitive swimmer, runner, and bicyclist.

The fresh look at people each time he meets them forces the young athlete to pay attention to voices and body language giving him more accurate information than most people about the motives and emotions of other people, in the moment. Facial expressions can be misleading, and chronic mistaken attributions of others can be made based on first impressions. On a more global basis, the athlete realizes that long term memories of people about events in a small town like Garopaba are often faulty, based on first impressions, and can lead to fear and aggression. Brief samples of behavior that do not meet the expectations of the residents often cause psychological and violent rejection of new arrivals in the small town. The athlete’s grandfather may have been the victim of this distorted perception of his intentions and may account for the man’s disappearance.

The novel is wonderfully translated from the Portuguese by Alison Entrekin, seamless in its consistent syntax and insightful/intelligent in its semantics. Every sentence is evocative of life in southern Brazil. Although the protagonist has problems recognizing faces, he is a reliable perceiver of the social and physical environment of the coastal city of Garopaba. The reader is immersed in an authentic depiction of the culture, architecture, and natural environs of this area of the country. It reminded me greatly of people and areas in and around Santiago, Chile that I visited years ago. The realistic and unique descriptions of the interaction and dialog of young adults rang true to me given my past experiences in South America. Blood Drenched Beard is an excellent novel, and I intend to read more of the work of Galera and Entrekin.