Mário de Carvalho - a fascinating tale of political rivalries, war, religion, philosophy, and social unrest in the twilight of the Roman Empire

Mário de Carvalho, A God Strolling in the Cool of the Evening, Trans. by Gregory Rabassa, Louisiana State University Press, 1997.

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Mario de Carvalho, winner of the 1996 Pegasus Prize for Literature, presents a fascinating tale of political rivalries, war, religion, philosophy, and social unrest in the twilight of the Roman Empire. It is a timeless tale of a good man struggling to maintain sense and order in his public and private lives and to uphold justice as he understands it.

Winner of the 1996 Pegasus Prize for literature, this novel is the memoir of a fictional Roman magistrate. Lucius Valerius Quintius is ruler of the small city of Tarcisis, located in Lusitania (now Portugal) at the end of the second century. He struggles with many serious problems?Moors are attacking from North Africa, and there is plenty of social and political unrest. Civil unrest looms when he procrastinates in making a decision dealing with the Christians within his walls. Without admitting it, he has fallen in love with Iunia Cantaber, the beautiful daughter of a lifelong friend. She is the leader of the Christians and continually tests Lucius?should he do what is honorable and just or what the majority want him to do? Trying to follow the example of his hero, Marcus Aurelius, he attempts to handle every problem justly, even when everything around him is crumbling. De Carvalho has published numerous novels, short story collections, and plays, but this is his first work to be translated into English. Beautifully crafted and written, it is a jewel. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries. - Lisa Rohrbaugh

Lucius Valerius Quincius looks back at his reign as duumvir of Tarcisis--a second-century Roman city in what is now Portugal--in this fictitious memoir of a Stoic disturbed and tempted by the creed of the early Christians. The Roman Empire is fading, and Tarcisis is no exception: invasion seems imminent as the Moors pillage the countryside and draw closer to the city walls; a political uprising from the lower classes upsets the established hierarchy; and Tarcinians seem unusually prone to superstition, including such barbaric Eastern cults as Christianity. Thrown into power by a leader's unexpected death, Lucius relies on the philosophical teachings of his hero, Marcus Aurelius, and his own ""liberal"" sense of justice to try and hold the city together. A Portuguese bestseller, de Carvalho's novel gives a satisfyingly intimate look at a man torn between tradition and open-minded curiosity. Not all the characters make such an impression. The leader of the Christian sect, Iunia Cantaber, is a surprisingly uncomplicated figure, and (without recourse to hindsight) it is difficult to understand what allure her religion holds for the cultured Lucius. Despite its shortcomings, this Portuguese Marius the Epicurean--which, the author insists, ""is not a historical novel""--paints a sympathetic, penetrating allegory of the humanist at bay. - Publishers Weekly

In Rome, Marcus Aurelius is Emperor, and in faraway Lusitania, in a city called Tarcisis, on the western edge of the Iberian peninsula in what will one day be Portugal, Lucius Valerius Quintius is his humble servant -- the duumvir, or magistrate. Dedicated and loyal, Lucius lives in a contentious time, caught between the dominance of what he calls ''Romanity'' -- built on its Latin heritage as well as the Empire's global reach -- and the fast-growing influence of the cult of Christianity. While the Christians spread their unfamiliar Gospel, the old guard sticks to comfortable tradition: animal sacrifice and entrail reading, bloody games and public punishment to please the masses, and stubborn adherence to the laws of Rome. Added to this precarious situation is an unseen but very real menace: Moorish hordes who have come from North Africa intent on looting and burning the Roman settlements. In A GOD STROLLING IN THE COOL OF THE EVENING, the Portuguese writer Mario de Carvalho (aided by his skillful translator, Gregory Rabassa) captures the fear and suspicion that surrounded the early years of what Lucius dismisses as ''the sect that worshiped fish.'' The right-minded Lucius is intent on remaining a just and respected leader by upholding Roman authority, but his colleagues scheme behind his back, and the Moors descend on his vulnerable city with deadly force. At the same time, Lucius' mind becomes clouded by a strangely decorous love for the Christian daughter of one of his most trusted friends. Elegant and erudite, Carvalho's novel is an absorbing study of a single man's moral code, as well as a provocative meditation on the difficulty of leading a virtuous life in an era of tumultuous change. - Erik Burns

Mario de Carvalho's novel, set in the fictional town of Tarcisis during the dying years of Marcus Aurelius reign as Emperor of the Roman Empire, fully deserves the Pegasus Prize for Literature, dealing as it does with a civic leader's attempt, over a six month period, to deal with several fundamental issues, ending with the trial of fervent Christianity in a small town atmosphere that is itself under social change and duress.
The story concerns the administration of the sole duumvir (the other dying off quite quickly midterm), Lucius Valerius Quintius, husband of Mara, focusing on two main areas of action. The first is the impending arrival of the human migration of Moors at the city walls, the other the advent of a Christian sect. Weaving into both is his relationship with Rufus Cardillius, aedile-elect and tavern keeper and with Iunia Cantaber, daughter of the respected equestrian, Maximus Cantaber, who has become a fervent Christian.
After an opening skirmish with Pontius Velutius Modius over the destruction of his house to replace the crumbling city wall and his subsequent suicide and the capture of Arsenna, a highwayman, by his trusted centurion, Aulus, Lucius finds his attempt to emulate his philosopher emperor brings him into odds with the people he is entrusted to care for. His very aloofness removes him from the common mind and he patently struggles at times to understand human nature. All of which stands him in bad stead when he is reluctantly forced to deal with the Christian sect and, more particularly, confront the nature of his personal relationship with Iunia who is determined upon a course of martyrdom. With an assorted supporting cast including Ennius Calpurnius, a senator, Lucius allows events to wash past him in an almost emotionless way as he defends his city from attack and struggles to understand the new religion that has come to his city whilst retaining his philosophical way of life.
Partway through Carvalho returns us to Rome for a flashback at the Colosseum where Lucius is singled out personally by Marcus Aurelius for some advice that remains with his for his entire life, if only when he realises he is not following it.
The novel is beautifully crafted and the inner struggles portrayed in the book are timeless yet vividly drawn, bringing a cast of characters to life in a manner that is both tragic and joyful, full of justice and injustice, yet all the while a sense of fate looms large, an inexorability that social change is slow to come and cannot be rushed. Carvalho's novel fully justifies its recognition. - www.fantasybookreview.co.uk/Mario-de-Carvalho/A-God-Strolling-in-the-Cool-of-the-Evening.html