Leandro Sarmatz was born in Porto Alegre and has lived in São Paulo since 2001. He is currently an editor at the publishing house Companhia das Letras. Sarmatz is the author of the play Mães e sogras (2000), the collection of poetry Logocausto (2009) and the short-story collection Uma fome (2010). ‘The Count’ (‘O Conde’) is taken from Uma fome. Here, as part of an ongoing series on the twenty authors from The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists issue – which was first published in Portuguese by Objectiva – Leandro Sarmatz is introduced by previous Best of Young American Novelist, Kevin Brockmeier.
Much of the fiction I have been happiest to discover lately has originated in the Portuguese – I’m thinking particularly of the novels and stories of Moacyr Scliar, Clarice Lispector, and Gonçalo M. Tavares. I confess, though, that of Granta’s twenty Best of Young Brazilian Novelists, not one is familiar to me. How much of this is due to my own negligence and how much to the laxities of American publishing I cannot say, though I do wonder how many of the writers on the list, if any, have been translated into English. Far too few, if Leandro Sarmatz’s short and startling contribution to the issue, ‘The Count’, is any indication. Tracing the journey of a mediocre actor and Holocaust survivor ‘touched by some mysterious higher design’ as he forges and impersonates his way through the war and then back to the city of his birth, the story is part Samuel Beckett and part Isaac Bashevis Singer, with a sudden final bolt of O. Henry. It has the flavour of a morality tale, but what’s most fascinating to me is how difficult it is to derive a moral from it, or rather how easy it is to derive more than one and how openly they stand in conflict with each other. Does the Count – so-called for the role he has made his specialty, Count Dracula – deserve the fate that befalls him? Can he be blamed for how little the war has broken him, for his seemingly deathless good fortune? How much does it matter if the blood that stains him is not his own? The story ends in a presentiment of violence and a whirl of questions, and it is entirely to Sarmatz’s credit that those questions linger rather than subside.
–Kevin Brockmeier, Best of Young American Novelist, 2007
Photograph by Itaú Cultural