‘Homens Imprudentemente Poéticos’ by Valter Hugo Mãe

My rating: 2 stars

Homens Imprudentemente Poéticos by the Portuguese writer Valter Hugo Mãe tells the tale of two neighbours, Itaro and Saburo, who are in open conflict, and exposes how suffering can significantly change a man who believed in love above all. This story, full of mystic elements, takes place in ancient Japan in a small town near a mountain, where people used to go to commit suicide. But it wasn’t the dark undertones that made me dislike the book. The reason was it feeling quite pretentious.

Itaro was an artisan who could see the future by killing an animal. After stabbing a beetle, he saw that a wise man was to arrive. But that is not the vision who sparks the animosity with his neighbour Saburo, who was a potter. Once he told him that his wife, Fuyu, was going to be killed by an animal which would come down from the mountain nearby.

Since he had already started taking care of the flowers at the bottom of that mountain, Saburo decided to turn the forest into a garden, hoping to tame the animals and so avoid his wife being killed. His plan was not successful, though, and his wife died anyway. Afterwards he continued planting flowers, as he believed that if the garden became bigger, the gods would be able to see it and would love him to the point of sending his dear wife back to him.

Itaro and Saburo hated each other mainly because they had different views on life. At first, Saburo praised feelings and wanted people to appreciate love, while Itaro placed all importance on the usefulness of activities. The artisan considered love to be a weakness, bearing in mind the misery they lived in.

This animosity is counterbalanced by Matsu, Itaro’s blind sister. She may not see, but she has a good grasp of other people’s characters. She saw her brother as someone who didn’t accept weakness, not admitting he was weak as well, and who struggled with a desire to kill. She may be young, but has correct perceptions. Despite all his faults, Itaro loved her, but his actions were not always guided by that feeling, even if we are led to believe otherwise.

Valter Hugo Mãe plays with the Portuguese language, transforming it sometimes too much. The game played with the language almost works when the chapters are really short, but while reading the longest chapter of the novel, I felt like throwing the book out of the window. The style ends up overpowering and shading the story, although in reality the plot isn’t too gripping either. After the characters are introduced and their personalities made clear, I was expecting the plot to be more developed and intriguing, but the actions of the characters only felt disjoint and fragmented.

Homens Imprudentemente Poéticos hasn’t been translated into English yet, but the title means something like ‘Recklessly Poetic Man’, and after finishing it, my feeling was that the author had infuriatingly tried too hard to bend the language to his desire and recklessly dismissed the plot.

If this had been the first book I read by Valter Hugo Mãe, it would probably also be the last. However, it was the second and I enjoyed my first foray into his work with A Desumanização, a book with poetic undertones, but also a touching story. I may read another of his books in the future to decide whether he’s an author to continue to delve into or not.

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