The OF Blog: David Soares and André Coelho, Sepulturas dos Pais

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

David Soares and André Coelho, Sepulturas dos Pais

For the past four years now, I have championed Portuguese writer David Soares as one of the most talented writers in the Lusophone literary/SF/horror worlds who has not yet been translated into English.  His novels demonstrate an author who is comfortable with switching between genres, as his prose is rich and yet not overly florid, filled with intriguing characters, many of whom seem to be unaware of how close they are to symbolic precipices.  I have reviewed two of his works, the historical/magical The Gospel of the Hanged and the graphic novel Palms for the Squirrel, and while each differs significantly in format, genre, and presentation, each are fascinating, slightly unsettling works that capture the reader's attention.

With his latest graphic novel, Sepulturas dos Pais (The Fathers' Sepulchres is a fairly literal translation; Tombs of the Fathers is another), Soares and illustrator André Coelho have created another memorable story.  Although it is relatively short at roughly 60 pages, Sepulturas dos Pais tells a story of loss and imagination, of love and despair, all of which shift and shimmer on the sands of an unnamed shore.  The story begins with a middle-aged man, Borges, telling to a then-unknown audience his story, beginning with his childhood, when his father dies and is, by custom, buried at sea (the women of the village are buried in the sands).  He speaks of "moving sands" among the sea dunes and of the legends surrounding them, legends that the reader quickly comes to realize are real, or at least in the mind of Borges.

We see Borges' first encounter with these "moving sands" after he traces an image on the shore after fleeing his house after seeing his widowed mother with another man.  Sex, both fully consentual and coerced, is a dominant element in this tale and through the women that Borges encounters, we see variations on this.  Soares does an excellent job in tying sexual desire and actions, positive and negative alike, to Borges' "moving sands."  Often the scenes, thanks to Coelho's vividly-drawn illustrations, are graphic, as the reader is forced to confront those fine lines between full consent and coercion, that are too frequently crossed in relationships, particularly between a woman who seeks love and discovers that young men's lust confounds affection, despising it while simultaneously taking affection's physical manifestations for selfish uses.  Janeiro, a young woman who Borges encounters on the shore after a particular nocturnal tryst with two young men who humiliate her with their sexual acts upon her, comes to be a center of the story.  It is her relationship with Borges, in stark contrast to that with the two young men, that forms the core of the story, providing a concrete parallel to the legends Borges narrates after the fact regarding the burial places of men and women.

The story unfolds at a rapid but never hurried pace, yet both author and illustrator manage to make it feel as though a great deal is transpiring in those scenes.  The "moving sands" move through these encounters between Borges and Janeiro, creating imaginative backdrops that underscore the emotional and physical attachments taking place.  Yet there is a tragedy waiting to unfold and both Soares and Coelho manage to capture it eloquently in both prose and image.  By the time I read the final panel, I felt a brief sort of aching commiseration, as the things lost served to remind me of the things gained over the course of this beautifully tragic story.  Sepulturas dos Pais is another strong tale by a very talented writer.

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