BIRDS OF PARADISE
Translations: German 2005, Italian 2014
A handsome stranger shows up in a small coastal village and, despite having the look of homelessness about him, with his shapeless blue-jeans and crumpled t-shirt, he’s surprisingly pleasant and well-mannered. In a place where anything out of the ordinary hardly ever happens, his presence causes a stir and he rapidly becomes the center of attention. He has kind green eyes, a friendly smile and, in a soft and engaging voice, he subtly encourages people to talk about themselves. He’s a good listener but reveals little about himself other than that he is a portrait painter and, to back this up, reels off endless trivia about the most famous artists of all time.
Viewed as an eccentric and solitary creative by the villagers, he is often seen at the beach, drawing, staring at the ocean or napping. His theories about life and human affections captivate them and even when he confesses to those he owes money that he’s broke, nobody seems to mind too much… As a way of settling his debts, he offers to paint their portraits and they’re all excited by the prospect: the two cousins who own the boarding house where he’s staying; Flor, the young woman who resists his charm; Maria, Flor’s friend; old Catarina; Mariana, the teacher; Solange, the owner of the stationary shop and her fiancé, Zé Luís, a bank clerk; mister António, the optician; doctor Ramalho, the pharmacist; the owners of the a cafeteria; even the Mayor, who sees a possibility for self-promotion. But just how good is the handsome stranger?
“Gusmão cultivates a cheerful, well-humoured style and creates good tension over large stretches of the novel." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - Feuilleton, 05.11.05
"This most entertainingly written, clever book is something of a social comedy with small ghostly appearances." Rolf Vollmann, Die Zeit, 18.11.05