By Sofia Jesus

What if the sole contemplation of nature’s beauty could change souls — and fate? What if ideas could be killed with a rock on a creature’s head?

Homens Imprudentemente Poéticos (Recklessly Poetic Men, in a free translation to English) is Portuguese author Valter Hugo Mãe’s latest novel — and it does not disappoint his fans. It is a beautiful ode to Japan, full of humanism.

In this book, the writer keeps reinventing ways of working with the language — its prose, often poetic, is wonderful to read. But what makes the book even more delightful is its characters.

The story — at times almost mystic — evolves around two poor households in a little village in Japan, built at the foot of a mountain. A mountain with a forest where people go to put an end to their lives — some return in regret, others don’t.

There’s the artisan Itaburo, obsessed with the idea of death. He kills bugs to have visions about the future. He lives — up to a certain point — with his blind-born younger sister, Matsu, and the maid that raised her, Ms Kame, or, as the girl calls her, “near mother” (“mãe perto,” in the original Portuguese expression used by the author).

Then, there’s the potter Saburo, who planted a huge flower garden on the foot of the mountain in hope to pacify angry animals and lost souls with such beauty — he did so after Itaburo told him that one of his dead-bug visions pointed to the death of Saburo’s beloved wife Ms Fuyu due to the attack of some kind of animal.

Itaburo — who tries to kill ideas while killing bugs and believes “blood awards the brave” — and Saburo — “I want to show love; I’m sorry [all of] you can only see death” — are quite different; and they dislike each other. Nevertheless, they share the challenges of a life of poverty and their will to care for the women in their lives.

There’s also a mysterious wiseman that arrives to the village allegedly to guide souls. He ordered villagers to “doubt the beauty of flowers in the edge of the forest” and “to smile”.

Happiness — and the way it is pursued — is somehow a central idea in this tale. We are left wondering about it. I take comfort in the girl full of light in her darkness: “Matsu […] said it: happiness is in the attention to detail. As if the rest would be absent to allow the strength of a perfect instant.”

Homens Imprudentemente Poéticos

Valter Hugo Mãe

Porto Editora, 2016