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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)
Books That Devoured My Father (The)
by Afonso Cruz
Age Range: 12+
When Elias Bonfim, the narrator celebrates his twelfth birthday his grandmother hands him the key to his father’s library. Vivaldo Bonfim had thoughts only of books. He worked in a tax office which he found dull and boring so his main escape from the tedium was provided in novels. In the office, he tended to read rather than work which often got him into trouble. One day he became so immersed in The Island of Dr Moreau by H.G. Wells that he just disappeared – “he had become part of literature, and was actually living that novel” – and was never to be seen again.
Now Elias sets off on a journey of discovery to find the father he never knew. Each day after school he goes to his father’s attic and reads book after book which takes him through the plots of many classic novels including - Wells' 'Moreau’, where he meets the Edward Prendick, now a dog called Argos; has a good chat to Mr Hyde of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a scary encounter with Rasnokilov from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment and strolls through Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 45. All of which is interspersed with the teachings of the Chinese Taoist philosophers Lao-Tze and Chuang Tze.
This small novella by Portuguese author Afonso Cruz is multi-layered with its complexity of dipping in and out of literature and reality, the philosophical conversations Elias has together with the beautiful description prose, eloquently translated by Margaret Jull Costa. When Elias went to school one day he tells the reader that “my thoughts didn’t go to school. They were up in the attic, in my father’s library. Once my body made an appearance in my various classes, it joined my thoughts in the afternoon" or an argument with his mother over the time he is spending in his father's library he shouts. "Books standing next to each other on a shelf are parallel universes.”
The Books that Devoured My Father is only a small book but it packed with rich content and is a celebration of the importance and power of literature.
Cruz has written thirteen works of fiction. He is also an illustrator and maker of animated films.