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Moldy Strawberries: Stories (Paperback)
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Caio Fernando Abreu is one of those authors who is picked up by every generation...
In these surreal and gripping stories about desire, tyranny, fear, and love, one of Brazil’s greatest queer writers appears in English for the first time
In 18 daring, scheming stories filled with tension and intimacy, Caio Fernando Abreu navigates a Brazil transformed by the AIDS epidemic and stifling military dictatorship of the 80s.
Tenderly suspended between fear and longing, Abreu’s characters grasp for connection:
- A man speckled with Carnival glitter crosses a crowded dance floor and seeks the warmth and beauty of another body.
- A budding office friendship between two young men turns into a surprising love, “a strange and secret harmony." One man desires another but fears a clumsy word or gesture might tear their plot to pieces.
Abreu writes the stories of people whose intimate lives are on the verge of imploding at all times. Even simple gestures—a salvaged cigarette, a knock on the door from the hazy downpour of a dream, a tight-lipped smile—are precarious offerings. Junkies, failed revolutionaries, poets, and conflicted artists face threats at every turn. But, inwardly ferocious and secretly resilient, they heal.
In these stories there is luminous memory and decay, and beauty on the horizon.
Translated by Bruna Dantas Lobato, currently an Iowa Arts Fellow and MFA candidate in Literary Translation at the University of Iowa.
About the Author
Caio Fernando Abreu (b. 1948) was one of the most influential Brazilian writers of the 1970s and 80s, despite his work remaining underrecognized outside of Brazil. The author of 20 books, including 12 story collections and two novels, he has been awarded major literary prizes. During the military dictatorship in Brazil (1964–1985), his homoerotic writing was heavily censored and he was soon put on a wanted list, finding refuge in the literary counterculture and eventually by going into self-exile in Europe. In 1994, while living in France, he tested HIV positive. He died two years later in his hometown. He was 47 years old.
Bruna Dantas Lobato was born and raised in Natal, Brazil. A graduate of Bennington College, she received her MFA in Fiction from New York University and is currently an Iowa Arts Fellow and MFA candidate in Literary Translation at the University of Iowa. Her stories, essays, and translations have appeared in The Kenyon Review, Harvard Review, A Public Space, BOMB, and elsewhere.
"As a gay man who was placed on a wanted list by the military dictatorship, went into self-imposed exile, and died of AIDS at 47, Abreu himself was acutely aware of what happens when you no longer have cause to believe in the future’s inevitability . . . As the collection’s title might suggest, where there is rot . . there is also fruit . . . There is at the very least – for Abreu, and for the characters in Moldy Strawberries – some dignity in existing as you are, even if it will kill you."
--Jane Pritchard, Los Angeles Review of Books
"Moldy Strawberries is a portrait of queer life in which it's impossible to divorce pleasure from politics . . . Dantas Lobato’s translation moves with lightning speed as Abreu’s characters go out in the rain, drink with abandon, reach across the dance floor, and gaze at the planets and at one another. Abreu hammers away at the core of life until it’s chiseled and brilliant, until it splinters, suddenly, into language."
--Oriana Ullman, The Paris Review
"Abreu’s prose shimmers and always surprises—each story is a small, bright gem. The fearless writing in this beautiful collection deserves a vast English-language readership."
– Publishers Weekly, starred review
"A stark collection of short stories from a Brazilian writer who creates specks of beauty with every stroke of the pen . . . Abreu remarkably captures a feeling that escapes definition, a proximity to death so palpable that the words scream its song. Abreu’s prose is still, rich, and full of time lost and time future. A profoundly moving collection on surviving stillness."
"Caio Fernando Abreu’s Moldy Strawberries introduces one of Brazil’s most important and original prose writers to English language readers. Translated with expert nuance and brio by Bruna Dantas Lobato, Abreu’s collection depicts the almost forgotten world of 1980s Brazil, a world shaped by military dictatorship, AIDS, and economic crisis, filtered through a rich and multilayered queer sensibility. You will want to add this startling collection to your bookshelf."
--John Keene, author of Counternarratives and Annotations
"Abreu's writing teems with the desperate and dispirited, beatific loners who are propelled by a gravitational hunger for some shred of authenticity or understanding, for intimate correspondence with another. There are monumental truths to be found in each of these stories, drifting amid the queasy weightlessness of oblivion and craving acknowledgement. Moldy Strawberries is an act of unshakeable compassion."
--Justin Walls, Bookshop
"Lending an almost painfully humane eye and ear to his characters, Caio Fernando Abreu constructs scenarios of staggering psychological depth from everyday gestures and occasions. Inevitably, devastatingly, readers are destined to meet themselves in his prismatic prose."
-- Lucy Ives, author of Loudermilk: Or, The Real Poet; Or, The Origin of the World
"Moldy Strawberries gives us an unforgettable portrait of politics and desire as these are written incrementally and achingly in the hearts of Brazilians. Bruna Dantas Lobato’s graceful and rhythmically acute translation brings close the loss and longing in Caio Fernando Abreu’s profound story sequence."
--Rick Moody, author of The Ice Storm
"[Abreu's] writing is at times delirious, arresting and revolutionary, often using fragmentation and the language of dreams to describe the world around him . . . This luminous collection of stories shows him to be one of the most compelling writers of the continent."
"[Moldy Strawberries] is as hilarious as it is heartbreaking, vaulting existential questions across the page while poking fun at the urge to ask them in the first place, both yearning for and laughing at utopian visions of the past. The strawberry fields of the 1960s and ’70s have grown moldy, but, in Abreu’s writing, within the mulch lies the promise of the new, a chance to start again."
--Rosa Boshier, Hyperallergic
"[Moldy Strawberries] amplifies the lives of people who were often disregarded or dismissed by a Brazilian society in flux. Its stories vibrate with emotion and honesty, conveyed through distinct voices and strong imagery by a confident and deft writer."
--Monica Carter, Foreword Reviews
"Reading Moldy Strawberries feels like immersing yourself underwater, in a beautiful world full of vivid colors and unfamiliar textures. While the current could drag you under–for danger and sadness are ever-present, the foil to vibrant love and desire–you surface feeling profoundly changed by your experiences."
--Georgina Fooks, Asymptote
"That Moldy Strawberries can embody the ambivalence of pleasant despair is a testament to its characters’ complexity, their ability to simultaneously navigate multiple lines of thought—some trivial, others profound—and multiple versions of the self—some public and performative, others private or reserved for a kindred spirit. To witness their distracted impulses, their tendencies to veer from one thought or self to another, is to witness these characters’ humanity."
--Jenny Hu, Ploughshares
"These 18 stories . . . distill flashes of joy, despair, and lust into crystalline moments of flickering emotion . . . [Moldy Strawberries] vibrates with emotion and honesty, conveyed through distinct voices and strong imagery by a confident and deft writer."
--Monica Carter, Forward Reviews
"The author bestows extreme depth, tenderness, and range upon his characters, as we witness them slip between lucidity and confusion, hope and despair, companionship and solitude . . . Lush, intimate, visceral, and unflinching . . . unrestrained by clinical distance or moral panic . . . Moldy Strawberries is a heart-wrenching translation and a moving tribute to Abreu."
--Emily Hunsberger, Latin American Literature Today
"[Abreu] became, and remains, the kind of cult figure who stirs the passions of aspiring young writers."
– Adam Morris, The Baffler
"Like any true artist, Caio Fernando Abreu turns form into substance, searches for meaning in the textures that come with a tactile awareness of one’s own graceless, limbed existence. Repeatedly, without ever tempering his thoughts, Abreu wonders if we’re simply the sum of our longings, reflections, and movements."
--Neil Czeszejko, Delphic Review
"Abreu is blatant in the best way. I was often reminded of his Brazilian compatriot, Clarice Lispector, whose books seemed to wrench you straight into her nerve endings. But if Lispector’s writing draws its power from its claustrophobic transcendence, Abreu’s prose offers a meter to the trembling gravity that pulls us towards one another . . . Moldy Strawberries is a startling, sensuous, and pulpy journal of the meaning we make of each other."
--Carr Harkrader, Necessary Fiction
"Kin is an intimate and painstakingly detailed attempt to comprehend one’s own identity . . . Jergovic delivers a nostalgic, irate, touching, and, above everything, beautiful homage to Sarajevo and its geography."
--Damjana Mraovic-O’Hare, Transitions, Massachusetts Review