What to Read: Gonçalo M. Tavares


I grabbed this book on impulse because come on, look at that cover design, it’s like a rubber stamp flying at your forehead, an instant before pounding you with its mark. Bold, I thought. But, as it turns out, not nearly as bold as what’s inside.

How we’re not all raving about Gonçalo M. Tavares together is a mystery and a shame, because Gonçalo M. Tavares is amazing. Born in Angola, raised in Portugal, he writes obsessively about anonymous wars in Eastern Europe. The voice narrating A Man: Klaus Klump has been shocked into submission by brutal violence, and now he looks upon his fellow human beings the same way he looks upon dead horses, tanks, or viscera–as just another chunk of physical matter, another type of object to bump up against. This defamiliarization, equating people with things, is simultaneously a very simple metaphorical conceit, a very rich source of literary material, and a very apt response to large-scale atrocities. Ben Marcus has been fiddling with this trick for years — the trick of confusing people with things, and vice versa — but Tavares masters it neatly. Every line is blunt, shocking, and regrettably true.

The big books in the Tavares ouvre belong to something he calls the Kingdom cycle, which includes Joseph Walser’s Machine, Jerusalem, and Learning to Pray in the Age of Technique, as well as Klaus Klump. Start with any of them. Mark O’Connell has a great introduction to Tavares over at The New Yorker, and Tavares’ books are available through the estimable Dalkey Archive Press.

– Brian Hurley

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