Vanessa Barbara is a journalist, translator and writer. Her publications include O livro amarelo do terminal (2008), winner of the Jabuti Award, the novel O verão do Chibo (2008), co-written with Emilio Fraia, and the children’s book Endrigo, o escavador de umbigo (2011), illustrated by Andrés Sandoval. She recently published a translation of The Great Gatsby. Barbara also edits the literary website A Hortaliça and is a columnist for the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo. ‘Lettuce Nights’ (‘Noites de alface’) is an extract from her forthcoming novel. 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 – Vanessa Barbara is introduced by previous Best of Young British Novelist, Rachel Seiffert.
A story that starts with a bereavement: already I’m drawn in. The real story is always in the aftermath, and here’s a young writer who not only understands that, but expresses it with tender humour too. So it’s the socks that miss Ada first; Otto notices them swollen in mourning, untended in the wash. The tone has been set, wry and gentle, even in the first paragraph, and we’ve been taken straight into that intimate, domestic space expressive of a long and contented marriage.
It’s a sad start, but there’s contentment for the reader here too: the particular satisfaction offered by a well-turned first chapter. Unhappily for Otto, his wife is now gone; happily for us, these are but the opening pages of a novel-in-progress, full of the promise of more to come, in good time, beyond this issue of Granta.
Otto and Ada, we are told, decided early on not to have children. Their life had to do with each other, and with those who lived around them. Inward-looking Otto took shelter behind his garrulous Ada; the kind of woman who would welcome a delivery boy into the living room and draw out his life story over coffee. Otto has his neighbours now, but he has his memories too – which should he choose? In this widower’s dilemma lies all the potential energy of a narrative ready to unfold.
Oh, and it has to do with cauliflowers too . . .
– Rachel Seiffert, Best of Young British Novelist in 2003