By Sofia Jesus

Imagine if one day priests had decided to keep files on every soul’s confessions? The deepest, darkest sins put into writing in a secret archive with the purpose of further analysis for “a better understanding of the mind, soul and spirit”. Macau-based author Carlos Morais José did. And the result is brilliant.

O Arquivo das Confissões: Bernardo Vasques e a Inveja (The Archive of Confessions: Bernardo Vasques and the Envy, in a free translation to English) is a wonderful tale that takes us some centuries back to a time when priests crossed oceans to spread the word of Christ.

The story begins in the 19th century, with the arrival of a protestant priest to Singapore, on his way to Macau. In a tavern, he meets a drunk Irish priest that tells him the secret story of the Archive of Confessions.

The Archive, he tells him, had been created by a small group of jesuits in Macau in the 16th century. They had decided to do so after one of them broke the vow of secrecy to share with the other jesuits the thoughts of a child on God. The joint analysis of those thoughts had been so fruitful that they decided to secretly keep files on confessions from that day on, together with a report of the priest that had received them, so that they could jointly analyse them later. “Why not create an Archive of Confessions, where crimes, detours, sins, whining, in a word, an extensive part of the human soul, would reveal itself voluntarily and in the honest begging for forgiveness?”

“There, in Macau, an unforgivable sin created a library that contains all the evils of the world… and of which the study may save mankind or in it intervene… or that is what jesuits believe…”

This amazing idea alone grabs the reader in the first pages of the book. But the story than unfolds after that is not the story of that secret archive, but the story of one of those souls whose testimonies had been secretly put into writing. The Irish priest allowed his interlocutor to read one of those secret files in exchange for a bottle of spirit — and this is how we get to know the story of Bernardo Vasques.

I usually try my best to avoid any spoilers and, as much as I would like to share with you some details of the story, I will make this chronicle no exception. Let me just say that the story of Bernardo Vasques is the amazing tale of a man in search for glory as a poet and yet tormented by the genius of another man. It is a story about obsession — about himself; about another poet; about a book —; about loneliness; about despair. All brought to life by envy — in the most extreme ways.

The story of Bernardo Vasques — told thrillingly in the first person, as it was the transcript of his confession — takes place somewhere in the 16th century. It involves a perilous trip to the East and the stealing of a book by the poet he considered to be the most brilliant Portuguese poet of that time — the one he envied with all his soul.

“Can a man turn into a book? So it seemed.”

O Arquivo das Confissões: Bernardo Vasques e a Inveja is a book not to be missed. Not only because it joins great ideas with a well-structured narrative, in a writing style full of rhythm and imagery that makes it delightful to read, but also, and perhaps most importantly, because it makes you think; it makes you question the deepest human feelings; it makes you anguish about the philosophical interrogations in it; in a word: it makes it real.

I just hope this isn’t the last we hear of Carlos Morais José’s Archive of Confessions — I would love to read other powerful sinful confessions.

On a final note, I can only wish Macau’s entities could find a way to join efforts and fund the translation of the city’s authors, so that wonderful pieces of literature such as this one — which is published in Portuguese — could be read by all in the city, regardless of their native language. For I am certain none would resist to get to know the amazing life of Bernardo Vasques.

O Arquivo das Confissões: Bernardo Vasques e a Inveja

Carlos Morais José

Livros do Oriente, 2016