One of the many cool things one can find on the site Book Riot is Rachel Cordasco’s monthly column “In Translation.” Each month her brief but informative piece spotlights three or four newly-released works of translated fiction. Since I’m participating in more and more reading challenges designed to inspire participants to read books about or set in other countries, I’ve found her columns full of promising recommendations. Back in September Cordasco featured a novel by the Brazilian author Edgard Telles Ribeiro. In her column, Cordasco described Ribeiro’s novel His Own Man as the story of a Brazilian diplomat named Max who spends several decades serving his nation’s autocratic military rulers. According to Cordasco, “the price this man pays is the trust and love of his family and friends, for Max has been both an informer and a spy.” Calling His Own Man “a fascinating read” a took Cordasco’s recommendation to heart and added Ribeiro’s novel to my growing list of things I wanna read.
Not long ago I was poking around the shelves at my public library when I spotted a copy of His Own Man. Remembering Cordasco’s praise of the novel, and knowing that I could count it towards a number of my reading challenges I eagerly grabbed it. After letting it sit unread for a few days a cracked it open one nice afternoon and went to work on it. Almost immediately I found myself sucked in this great piece of sophisticated and entertaining fiction.
The novel begins with our young and impressionable narrator busy at his job with the Brazilian foreign ministry. It’s here he meets Max and is immediately taken in by his charming, culturally sophisticated and slightly Bohemian manner. Within no time he’s quickly introduced to Max’s inner circle of young urban sophisticates. But soon after that, things begin to change. A conservative Brazilian cardinal pays a visit to the ministry, and in an obvious show of fealty Max kisses his ring. With this message telegraphed to the nation’s new ruling junta Max has shown he’s ready and willing to do their bidding. He quickly and effortlessly sheds his former left-leaning beliefs and begins toting the new conservative party line. Favored and supported by members of the junta, the reinvented Max rises up the ranks of Brazilian diplomatic corps, with prestigious postings throughout southern South America (and playing no small part in the region’s bloody “dirty wars”). Along the way Max also secretly supplies secret information to both the American and British intelligence services, making him a spy in the pay of not just one but three different nations.
This is a very good book and highly recommended for any readers who might be interested in South American politics and history, especially that of the last 50 years. On a personal note, it’s also the first Brazilian novel I’ve read. After enjoying it, I’d love to read more fiction from that South America nation. Therefore, kudos to Rachel Cordasco and the good people at Book Riot for bringing this fine novel to my attention.