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‘We need the literature of other countries to expand our
horizons and stimulate our ideas. Without it, we are not only
diminished, we are starved’
(The Times, Magnus Linklater 29/06/05)
Head of the Saint (The)
by Socorro Acioli
Age Range: 12+
The women in Samuel’s family have always been able to predict when they were going to die. Samuel’s mother Mariinha knows her time is near
so she asks Samuel to complete three tasks after her death, the third of which is the most important of all; Samuel must set out on a journey to find his father and grandmother which takes him sixteen long days to travel to Candeia where his grandmother Niceia lives.
When Samuel arrives at Niceia’s house she refuses to invite him in. Instead she tells her starving and desperate grandson to go into the forest where he will find a sheltered spot where he can rest. Cold, hungry and with a deep wound to his leg after being savaged by a dog, Samuel eventually finds a filthy grotto where he falls into a deep uneasy sleep.
At exactly 5am the next morning Samuel wakes to the sound of women’s voices, several of them all speaking at once. Then he realises they are praying. When he investigates he discovers that the grotto where he has been sheltering is in fact, the giant head of a saint – the decapitated head of the statue of St Anthony. The voices continue the following morning and the only thing that is constant is the women’s petition: they are in love or they want to marry.
Francisco, a local boy, befriends Samuel and they come up with the perfect plan to help a young girl who is in love with the local doctor. When Samuel’s advice is successful, word spreads and soon women from Candeia and beyond are travelling to the saint’s head for advice from St Anthony’s messenger. It is not long before Samuel has more than just the lovelorn to deal with as his fame continues to spread.
The Head of the Saint is a completely charming and heart-warming tale from Brazil by Socorro Acioli. Samuel’s quest to find his family and the lives of the ordinary, humble people of Candeia are vividly portrayed in the elegant, lyrical prose of award-winning translator Daniel Hahn. Translated from Portuguese, it captures the essence of rural Brazil rooted in its religious customs and superstition, its poverty and the desolation and bleakness of Candeia as seen through Samuel’s eyes when he first arrives in the town – ‘Candeia had almost nothing to it. A collection of dead houses, a little old church, the remnants of a square’ – is all told with such humanity and gentle humour.
This is translated fiction at its best. Hot Key Books has discovered a real gem, one that is sure to be savoured.