Steve's Reviews > Dom Casmurro

Dom Casmurro by Machado de Assis
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's review
Jan 12, 10

HEADLINE: Did Escobar and Capitu commit adultery or not? (Answer at the end of this review.)

Dom Casmurro is a startling book. How can a book published in 1899 seem so contemporary in style and content? I still ponder this. One requires only a bit of scene setting in the Brazil of the 19th Century from some other source in order to get in the swing of this novel very quickly. John Gledson's Foreword to the Library of Latin America's edition does just that. He is also the translator.

This is a fictional memoir. The memoirist is the title character who writes concerning his younger self of decades earlier, Bento, and Bento's love, courtship, and marriage to a memorable and vivid female character named Capitu. His mother, her dependents, his good friend, Escobar, his son, are supporting characters in his memoir. Dom Casmurro has survived everyone of whom he writes, including, I think, Bento.

On the face of it, Dom Casmurro's memoir is straight forward. The problem is that as we read, we become more and more certain that whatever happened in his youth did not happen as he is telling it. This novel is a skillful study of the nature of human memory, the loss of memory, and the invention of memories. We are all proud that we know what an unreliable narrator is. This novel, from beginning to end, is an exhibition of an unreliable narrator like none you have encountered.

It is impossible for me to predict your reaction to Dom Casmurro—the narrator, not the novel. You may be repelled or disgusted. You may like him immensely. You may laugh at him. You may become sad for him. He may remind you of someone you detest. He may remind you of yourself. Whatever your reaction, it will be worth your time.

And did Capitu and Escobar commit adultery? No, silly. Capitu and Escobar are fictional characters. They do not exist and never did.
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