2 August 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is by Chad W. Post on The Book of Emotions by João Almino, from Dalkey Archive Press.

Here’s the beginning of the review:

João Almino’s The Book of Emotions is the prototypical Dalkey Archive book. Not that all of Dalkey’s books are the same, but there is a certain set of criteria that a lot of their titles have—and which Almino’s novel has in spades:


  1. It’s a book about someone trying to write a book.

  2. bq. From Mulligan Stew to At Swim-Two-Birds to The Journalist, this is a set-up that runs through a lot of Dalkey’s titles. In this case, Cadu, a former photographer is constructing a memoir about his life in Brasília out of some of his old photos. The text alternates from his personal “current moment” experiences (which mostly revolve around trying to set up his goddaughter while sexually crushing on the girl helping him organize his photo files) and the text of his book, entitled “The Book of Emotions.”

  3. The main character’s life didn’t turn out the way he had hoped.

  4. bq. If you’ve never read the “Letters to the Editor” from the back of the Review of Contemporary Fiction, you really should. A good number of them are quite hysterical, generally featuring a decrepit old man whose life has unraveled. In the case of The Book of Emotions, the aforementioned photographer is still pining away for Joana, the woman he loved who left him for a corrupt politician. Not that our protagonist doesn’t have his share of women—it seems like he’s slept with everyone—but that never seems to work out either: the boy he fathered doesn’t know him and is in prison, the woman he marries dies tragically young, etc.

  5. The protagonist has mental or health issues.

  6. This is true of most every book in the world, but in keeping with the sad sack people who write into RCF with their problems, Cadu is blind and pretty much bed ridden. His best days are behind him, and he’s trapped with just the memories of his life, loves, and pictures. Which brings up the fourth key aspect to a “typical” Dalkey book . . .

For the rest of the review, go here

2 August 13 | Chad W. Post | Comments

João Almino’s The Book of Emotions is the prototypical Dalkey Archive book. Not that all of Dalkey’s books are the same, but there is a certain set of criteria that a lot of their titles have—and which Almino’s novel has in spades:


  1. It’s a book about someone trying to write a book.
  2. From Mulligan Stew to At Swim-Two-Birds to The Journalist, this is a set-up that runs through a lot of Dalkey’s titles. In this case, Cadu, a former photographer is constructing a memoir about his life in Brasília out of some of his old photos. The text alternates from his personal “current moment” experiences (which mostly revolve around trying to set up his goddaughter while sexually crushing on the girl helping him organize his photo files) and the text of his book, entitled “The Book of Emotions.”

  3. The main character’s life didn’t turn out the way he had hoped.
  4. If you’ve never read the “Letters to the Editor” from the back of the Review of Contemporary Fiction, you really should. A good number of them are quite hysterical, generally featuring a decrepit old man whose life has unraveled. In the case of The Book of Emotions, the aforementioned photographer is still pining away for Joana, the woman he loved who left him for a corrupt politician. Not that our protagonist doesn’t have his share of women—it seems like he’s slept with everyone—but that never seems to work out either: the boy he fathered doesn’t know him and is in prison, the woman he marries dies tragically young, etc.

  5. The protagonist has mental or health issues.
  6. This is true of most every book in the world, but in keeping with the sad sack people who write into RCF with their problems, Cadu is blind and pretty much bed ridden. His best days are behind him, and he’s trapped with just the memories of his life, loves, and pictures. Which brings up the fourth key aspect to a “typical” Dalkey book . . .

  7. The narrative works by illustrating the strangenesses of the character’s way of thinking.
  8. A perfect example of this is Iceland by Jim Krusoe. Or any of the Toussaint books that Dalkey has published. Actually, to be honest, you could throw a dart at a wall of Dalkey titles and whatever you hit will likely feature a quirky narrator whose prose illuminates all the bizarreness of his mind. And The Book of Emotions falls into that general grouping, with the one difference that, although the entire text consists of Cadu’s thoughts and reactions to what goes on around him, the book doesn’t quite come together with the panache and humor that is evident in the examples above. There is something intriguing about The Book of Emotions, but unfortunately, it’s not the narrator’s voice.

    What I like about this book is its overall structure—the parallel times, the numbered sections each centered around a particular (unseen) photograph—and the fact that it’s set in 2022 in Brasília and is part of Almino’s “Brasília Quintet.” (Five Seasons of Love, which is available from Host Publications features one of the characters from this novel, and the forthcoming Free City is part of this series as well.) There are some moving moments in this book, but on the whole it’s a relatively sterile, exacting depiction of a man’s life and missed opportunities.

    Unfortunately, I feel like Almino’s prose in Elizabeth Jackson’s translation falls a bit flat. There’s something too precise or rote . . . too straightforward in a way that is lacking and fails to really replicate the inner workings of the narrator’s mind:

    When Joana and I discovered that we couldn’t have children, we didn’t undergo the tests to determine whose problem it was. That impossibility was a blessing: we didn’t want to have children. However, it was unlikely the infertility was mine because many years before in Brasília another woman had conceived my child.

    That “another woman had conceived my child” is just so stiff . . . One other example of where I think the voice in this book falls short from one of the sex scenes:

    We traded the most crude and vulgar exchanges, I used the foulest profanities I knew and yelled whatever else I could to shock her. Marcela wasn’t to be outdone. She dominated that rich vocabulary better than I did and she wasn’t intimidated, as if she’d had experience with phone sex.

    This isn’t to write off Almino—I think he’s one of the most interesting Brazilian writers working today, and I’m looking forward to reading more of his titles. (Especially Where to Spent the End of the World.) I just went into this with high hopes—see list above and my belief that this would be a very Dalkeyish Dalkey book—and came to see the prose as something I had to trudge through, more out of a sense of duty and abstract interest in the plot than because I really enjoyed it.

19 October 12 | JT Mahany | Comments

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece written by Camila Santos on The Book of Emotions, by João Almino, translated from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Jackson and published by Dalkey Archive Press.

The Book of Emotions is Almino’s second novel translated into English, the first being The Five Seasons of Love (also translated by Elizabeth Jackson), published by Host Publications.

Here is a bit of the review:

João Almino, the novelist and diplomat, is—like the narrator of The Book of Emotions—a photographer and an outsider to Brasília. He was born in Mossoró, in the Brazilian Northeast. This is a poor region that has, much like the American South, produced a long list of influential writers such as Jorge Amado, Graciliano Ramos, João Cabral de Melo Neto, and Guimarães Rosa. In the beginning of Almino’s career, one of his biggest dilemmas was whether to set his fiction in the Northeast or in Brasília, where he had lived for ten years. He decided on Brasília because it offered him the freedom to “trace a path that had not yet been followed, to try and create the sort of literature that had little to do with the picturesque, with clichés, with what was already so well know.” In an online interview for Saraiva Conteúdo, the portal for one of Brazil’s largest bookstore, he says, “Brasília is a place with an open, erratic, multiple identity that can assimilate what comes from the outside.”

To read the whole review, click here.

19 October 12 | JT Mahany |

At its inauguration in 1960, Brasília was baptized “The Capital of Hope.” It is a city that was carved out from scratch in the cerrado, a woodland savannah in the middle of Brazil, in just 41 months of construction. It is also a city completely planned out, a city born without any residents.

When Clarice Lispector, one of Brazil’s most famous writers, visited the new capital in the early seventies, she was struck by how large Brasília loomed over its residents, how its infinite spaces could conjure such unbearable loneliness, how everyone who lived there was from somewhere else. “Brasília,” she wrote “has no inhabitants as of yet who are typical of Brasília.” The oldest citizens born in Brasília are only fifty-two years old today.

João Almino, the novelist and diplomat, is—like the narrator of The Book of Emotions—a photographer and an outsider to Brasília. He was born in Mossoró, in the Brazilian Northeast. This is a poor region that has, much like the American South, produced a long list of influential writers such as Jorge Amado, Graciliano Ramos, João Cabral de Melo Neto, and Guimarães Rosa. In the beginning of Almino’s career, one of his biggest dilemmas was whether to set his fiction in the Northeast or in Brasília, where he had lived for ten years. He decided on Brasília because it offered him the freedom to “trace a path that had not yet been followed, to try and create the sort of literature that had little to do with the picturesque, with clichés, with what was already so well know.” In an online interview for Saraiva Conteúdo, the portal for one of Brazil’s largest bookstore, he says, “Brasília is a place with an open, erratic, multiple identity that can assimilate what comes from the outside.”

Almino has published several previous books, all of which have been set in Brasília, including The Five Seasons of Love (translated by Elizabeth Jackson and published by Host Publications in 2008), and the to date untranslated Idéias para Onde Passar o Fim do Mundo [Ideas for Where to Spend the End of the World], Samba-Enredo [Samba Story], and Cidade Livre [Free City]. The Book of Emotions, Almino’s second novel published in English, by Dalkey Archive Press was also translated by Elizabeth Jackson.

In The Book of Emotions, set in the year 2022, Almino depicts a Brasília that goes far beyond the Three Powers Square, the cluster of massive residential blocks known as superquadras, or the capital’s legendary sunsets. The city serves as a backdrop and also as a reflection of inner turmoil, failure, and loss. The book’s narrator, Cadu, is living alone in Brasília, blind and nearing the end of his life. One of his friends suggests that Cadu return to working on a photographic memoir he had kept in 2002, when he left Rio de Janeiro and moved to Brasília. Even though Cadu cannot see, he is able to reconstruct his photographic chronicles from memory with the help of a young assistant. “Those photographs reveal themselves in rich detail in my memory, even more than if it were possible to see them. They’re like Stieglitz clouds; each one equals an emotion. My blindness reveals their essence, for in the end, to best see a photograph, you have to close your eyes.”

The Book of Emotions is an attempt to follow the contours of memory. Almino sets up the novel as a memoir within a diary. The italicized diary entries describe Cadu’s day-to-day life in 2022. Interspersed with these entries is his memoir-in-progress, also entitled “The Book of Emotions.” Each entry from Cadu’s “The Book of Emotions” is based upon a photograph taken during his first years in Brasília, before he went blind. It is through this memoir that we learn of the important facts of Cadu’s life: his unemployment, the jailed son whom he has never met, an unsuccessful exhibit of his photographs, and his obsession with women, especially with his ex-lover, Joana. Through the fragments of his memories, Cadu tries to piece together his life, a life that for no apparent reason simply ruptured into a million pieces.

Memory is non-linear, sporadic, and self-selecting, and so are Cadu’s recollections of his past. The novel functions as a dialogue between an older Cadu and a younger Cadu, much as in the Borges story, The Other. “The idea for ‘The Book of Emotions,’” the narrator explains in one of his first entries, “is that the person speaking will not be me but rather another Cadu, someone twenty years younger who can see and who composes a photographic diary.”

Elizabeth Jackson’s translation clearly sets and strives to preserve the original flavor of the Portuguese throughout the novel. She is most successful in her translations of Cadu’s descriptions of Brasília, capturing Almino’s lush Portuguese beautifully:

The night covered us with its dense, long blankets and carried us to the bottom of its black precipices. We decided to stretch it between silent stars and gusts of truth, and we heard the applause of the angels at the end of time. We were bathed more in certainty than in hope.

A good translation takes its readers to a different world, one which they have not experienced first-hand. The only way for many of us to experience what it’s like to live in distant places is through words:

The efficiency of the waiters was measured by the speed with which they brought another draft beer as soon as the glass was empty. Mine emptied five or six times, and Mauricio began to play with the cork coasters printed in red with the beer logo that came with every glass.

There are moments, however, when Jackson’s translation becomes clumsy as she strains to capture the book’s Brazilian flavor. In a passage in which Cadu describes how he experiences Brasília, he refers to “the rot of the power dungeons, the spilt tears and laughs heard in the corridors of Congress.” The phrase “the rot of the power dungeons” fails to convey Almino’s reference to the constant corruption scandals, past and present, that Brasília has faced. A more elegant and accessible phrase might have referenced, say, power’s dirty underbelly.

There are in fact quite a few culturally specific references in Almino’s novel: religion, Brasília’s architecture, literary references, and nicknames. General explanations for the reader might have been offered unobtrusively on occasion. For instance, when Cadu and his girlfriend visit a religious temple whose followers believe in the healing power of spirits, the bishop gives them a blessing and a bottle of water that the bishop claims was magnetized by the temple’s spirits. This spiritually blessed water has been translated as “fluidized water,” a choice that might not make much sense for a reader who is not aware of the hybrid form of Catholicism, Evangelical cult and Spiritism practiced in Brazil. Simply describing the water as “water magnetized by the temple’s spirits, through its mediums” might have made more sense.

It is through photography that Cadu attempts to make peace with his ghosts: past lovers, family, past failures, the myth of Brasília, the beauty of youth. As he recalls each photograph, Cadu simultaneously recreates and shatters the image he had of himself. “I’m no longer sure that I’m the handsome Brasiliarian of Clarice’s [Lispector] stories, which I listened to again.” In this novel of sensations and desires, Almino’s narrative is like a photograph that mesmerizes his readers as Cadu filters his past through “the camera’s objective eye, an eye that sometimes surprises by seeing more than the human eye.”

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