Gringa Reads

Feriado de Mim Mesmo by Santiago Nazarian

Review, SynopsisZoe PerryComment

Santiago Nazarian is a hot name among young Brazilian writers today, and one that had been on my radar for some time, so I was pleased to finally be able to sit down and read one of his books. He's famously outspoken on the São Paulo literary scene, traveling and appearing at various events and festivals, and is a regular blogger (perhaps best known for his rant about the Granta selection process for last year's Brazil issue). He's written short stories, novels, novellas, young adult fiction, and TV scripts, and is also a literary translator.

Santiago's writing has been described as "bizarre existentialist", gothic and pop, and I think he champions the idea that pop can also be literary, and that, in the right hands, contemporary can sit comfortably alongside classical literary references. If I had to sum up Feriado de mim mesmo (Holiday From Myself) in one line, I'd say: Poe meets Hitchcock with a flourish of Kafka (and not just because a cockroach features prominently in the story), on a solid foundation of MTV.

The narrator of this thriller is a young man, living in Porto Alegre (the city where Santiago was living when he wrote the book), who works from home as a translator. He leads an extremely solitary life, often leaving his house only to go to the grocery store. He has no friends, no roommates, no girlfriend. He doesn't know his neighbors, and even his parents have moved away. One day strange things start to happen. The channel on the TV changes, things aren't where he left them, food has been nibbled in the fridge, an extra toothbrush at the sink, mysterious messages left for someone with another name on his answering machine... And thus starts the frantic spiral into Miguel's mind. Has someone broken into his apartment? Is there something paranormal going on? Or is he just paranoid? Has he created the intruder in his mind? Is he schizophrenic? He sets out on a quest to uncover the intruder's identity, phoning his landlord (who's never heard of him), arranging a meeting (he doesn't show up). Fed up and desperate to return to his quiet life, he tries to get rid of the intruder, throwing out his things, threatening him, even going as far as putting rat poison in the leftover chicken, until it all goes a bit too far.

What makes this book work is precisely what might discourage the reader in the beginning. If you can allow yourself to accept that what initially seems redundant or repetitive is actually the start of a strong narrative thread that will carry you until the end of the book, you'll quickly be sucked in and want to read it all in one go. Santiago very carefully crafts each sentence, repeating certain words, verbs, and short phrases, making the book pulse along, building slow, hypnotic tension. Just to give you an idea of this style, here's an excerpt from a sample translation I recently did:

There were lots of warm drops, the shower. The shower dripping on him. Dripping on his hand, turning the tap. A little hotter. A little colder. The exact temperature, to start the day. The water trickling down the drain – it reminded him he needed to clean. Reminded him he needed to clean the apartment. Some day, not that day. Debris coming in through the window. His remains trickling down his skin. He wouldn’t have to do a thing, and the apartment would continue to get covered in dust.

Rumors have circulated for years about the film adaptation of the book, but currently that all seems to have stalled. Last year, however, it was adapted for the stage in Rio, in a production that uses three actor/narrators for the role of Miguel. Feriado de mim mesmo  was published by Planeta (2005, 160 pgs), and unfortunately is currently out of print. To read the full sample, contact the Mertin literary agency.

A little about the author:  Santiago Nazarian was born in São Paulo, where he lives today, but wrote his first books in Porto Alegre. In 2003 he was awarded the Prêmio Fundação Conrado Wessel de Literatura for Olívio, his first published novel. He's been a bookseller, English teacher, advertising copywriter, and also writes scripts for TV. He blogs regularly here. To learn more about Santiago, or to contact his agent, click here.