It would take all the space available for this review to catalog the crimes that occur in Jerusalem, a novel by the Portuguese writer Gonçalo M. Tavares published by Dalkey Archive Press in 2009 with a translation by Anna Kushner. It begins with a slight from a priest who refuses to open a church for a dying woman and ends with multiple murders in the street.
In Jerusalem, which is part of a series of novels collectively called “The Kingdom,” Tavares explores violence as an institution. This takes the form of a quasi-scientific study undertaken by one of the novel’s principal characters, Dr. Theodor Busbeck: “I want to produce a graph—a single graph to establish, to summarize, the relationship between history and atrocity. To chart whether horror has been increasing or decreasing century after century.”
Busbeck’s “horror-graph” is folly, of course, but what’s interesting here is the extent to which his devotion to this noble-seeming project dooms his family. He banishes his wife to the Georg Rosenberg Asylum—a literal institution of the sort of horror Busbeck studies in the abstract—and abandons his son when the boy needs him most.
What keeps the story from becoming trite and predictable is the chorus of voices Tavares marshals to tell it. From the mental patients at the asylum to the characters in a science-fiction novel, there’s no shortage of opinions. Ultimately, these intrusions feel like a gimmicky convolution of an otherwise tawdry tale that takes place over the course of a few short midnight hours.
I was hoping that seeing the author read, in Portugal no less, would improve my opinion of the work. It didn't, though I will read more by Tavares.