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Duke, the Dog Priest
Series No.: 171
ISBN: 978-1-933382-89-0, Pages: 495
Brazilian Literature, Fiction
From the very beginning pages of Duke, the Dog Priest the reader is thrown into a debate underlying the absurdity of Brazilian author Domício Coutinho's premise: for his novel fabulously purports to be the tale of a dog who desired to become a priest -- or a least to learn Latin. Most American readers -- readers who have encountered few twentieth-century native examples of this genre within the confines of "serious fiction" outside of works such as John Hawkes' Sweet William and The Frog, Tom La Farge's The Crimson Bears, and a handful of other works -- may quietly put down this book, send for their children, or read on in the hopes of encountering a lightweight fantasy. Americans have no great literary tradition of animal characters as do the Japanese, for example, with books such as I Am a Cat, or the Brazilians, well acquainted with their early classic -- to which this work makes reference -- Quincas Borba, Machado de Assis's story of a philosopher dog.
Let the reader be warned: this tale, narrated by Amarante, a Brazilian and former sacristan ("he prepares the altar, lights candles, assists at mass, teaches prayers, aids virgins, widows and abandoned wives. He also secretly tests the virtues and character of the wine") living in New York (Nova Eboracense), will challenge the most sophisticated of readers in its dazzling mix of priests, brothers, nuns, students, church workers, parishioners, city luminaries and, yes, a dog named Duke and the marvelous tales of their interrelationships. If Duke, the Dog Priest were to have a single theme at its center -- and fortunately Brazilian writer Coutinho presents an almost perversely diverse and multifaceted world wrapped around dozens of thematic possibilities -- it would be that even the smallest of actions affects nearly everyone. And, in that sense, each small tale within this encyclopedic work of stories within stories is as important as the next in its inevitable interconnectedness.
Originally published in Portuguese in 1998, this translation reveals a contemporary masterwork of fiction.