“Migration can be triggered by the angle of sunlight, indicating a change in season, temperature, plant life, and food supply. Female monarchs lay eggs along the route. Every history has more than one thread of division. The journey takes four thousand eight hundred and thirty miles, more than the length of the country. The monarchs that fly south will not make it back north. Each departure, then, is final. Only their children return; only the future revisits the past.”
Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous
This review of Blood Drenched Beard by Daniel Galera is a little late. My book club read this book in July and we’re already on our third book. Some books need to percolate of course. Blood-Drenched Beard is the first novel by Brazilian author, editor and translator Daniel Galera. The novel is a fictionalized portrait of Galera’s estranged uncle. The uncle is unnamed, and I will hereafter refer to him merely as the protagonist. The series of events that make up this thriller are triggered by death of the protagonist’s father. Before his death, his father reveals that the protagonist’s grandfather was murdered in the beach town of Garopaba although his body was never found. The protagonist moves to Garopaba in search of answers about the man he is said to resemble. The protagonist also suffers from a condition that inhibits his ability to remember faces, which makes for a difficult investigation. It is ironic that the protagonist, in his search of his grandfather, remembering, an act he struggles with on a daily basis.
In some ways we are our parent’s ghosts, we carry their anxieties, their restlessness.
When I initially read the book, I was disappointed. The book was sold to me as a ‘literary thriller’, but the first hundred or so pages were anything but thrilling. Galera was delicately setting the stage for what was to come. I don’t quite agree with that approach, a little bit of chaos is always an exciting and preferable introduction to a thriller. For all its mystery, I do not consider the novel a thriller at all. Almost two months after reading the book, I have begun reading Ocean Vuong’s debut novel On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. I came across the aforementioned quote on bird migration theory. I had previously come across this theory while watching an interview by Edwidge Danticat, I didn’t think much of it at the time. I asked my book club whether this novel was a necessary novel, we all agreed that it was not, albeit an interesting one. The purpose of the book was fulfilled in researching and writing it, rather than in our experience of reading it. For the most part.
A distinction still exists between the future and the past, but the two are forever linked and necessary for the progeny to move forward. Galera himself is a part of this cycle, that moves backwards in order to move forward.
Since my light-bulb migration theory moment, I think Blood-Drenched Beard is a more important book than I was willing to give it credit for. More than once, the protagonist is mistaken for a ghost because of his uncanny resemblance to his grandfather whose murder is wildly known but never discussed in the little town of Garopaba. There’s a lesson here about the intergenerational inheritance of memory, which is significant for a man who cannot remember faces. In some ways we are our parent’s ghosts, we carry their anxieties, their restlessness. In a one and a half page introduction, Galera reveals that his uncle (the inspiration for the protagonist’s character) “was a solitary man…Everyone who remembers my uncle from the old days mentions a lame dog that swam like a dolphin and that accompanied him out into the deep. And here ends what we might refer to as the facts. The rest of the interviews were a kaleidoscope of overlapping rumors, legends and colorful stories. They said he could stay underwater for ten minutes without coming up for air; that the dog who followed him high and low was immortal; that he had once taken on ten locals and won; that he swam at night from beach to beach and was seen emerging from sea in distant places; that he killed people, which was why he was discreet and kept to himself; that he never turned away anyone who came to him for help; that he had inhabited those beaches forever and would continue to do so. More than one or two said they didn’t believe he was really dead.”
This portrait is eerily similar to the protagonist’s grandfather’s story as told to the protagonist by his father. This is not a story about reincarnation, this is a story about the “future [revisiting] the past.” A distinction still exists between the future and the past, but the two are forever linked and necessary for the progeny to move forward. Galera himself is a part of this cycle, that moves backwards in order to move forward.
I will admit that Galera’s execution of his ideas were not the most captivating, were it not for my book club meeting, it might have taken me months to finish reading this book. There is no clear incentive to read this novel. I can only appreciate the book in retrospect and in full, still, I am grateful to have read it in the end.