The Love of Singular Men by Victor Heringer | Book Review

“I’ll never discover where they ended up, no one knows the humble fates of so many people. (…) this entire world is no more than a delusion of my crippled mind. (…) another such world is possible, (…) but a little less heinous.”

“I’ve always believed I didn’t come into the world to be, but to have been, to have done.”

The Love of Singular Men by the late Brazilian writer, Victor Heringer (1988 – 2018) is a beautifully written book, with a mixture of styles incorporating photos and drawings. It is an exploration of Brazil’s socio-political landscape of the 1970s and the 2010s.

The main storyline depicts tender love between two teenage boys, Cosme and Camilo in the 1970s Rio de Janeiro, Brazil ruled by the military dictatorship (1964 – 1985). It is a tale of emotional intimacy, loss, grief, encounters and individuals who leave an indelible mark on our existence.

It’s a great example of the literary testament portraying important social and historical milestones interlinked with the individual life and their impact on the course of one’s life.

The Love of Singular Men tells a story of the 1970s and 2010s Brazil from the perspective of a young teenage boy whose life was ruled by violence and tragedy – it was “colonised by it”. Violence is a common occurrence towards people who don’t fit in, who are not boxable like Cosme in the book and many poor women “with not enough words” to report their assaulter

This book explores a social fabric of Brazil in its all unique diversity and complexity. We witness how the neighbourhoods have changed over the course of thirty years. It’s a portrayal of Rio de Janeiro and its inhabitants, coming from diverse ethnic and social backgrounds living side by side, often in the places marked by crime, corruption and disappearance of the ordinary people.

“These days they killed over nothing, a man’s life was worth nothing, was worth less and less each day.”

This book offers an indirect portrayal of the military dictatorship in 1970s Brazil. Camilo’s father is a part of military dictatorship working as a doctor who ensured people stayed alive during interrogation and torture; with Cosme being born to one of Camilo’s victims. We see witness the impact of military dictatorship on the everyday lives of ordinary people, those who fought against it as well as family members of those complicit in the atrocities of the regime.

“Sometimes Dad would sink into a silence and everybody saw on his face that he was in pain, everybody thought it was because he’d seen so many people die.”

This unique books also constitutes a portrayal of women in the society and their position in the relationships as mothers, daughters, companions, nannies, labourers. They are often disfranchised, underprivileged, forced to be single mothers, even if they are in relationships, often affected by their husbands’ crimes like Camilo’s mother and his nanny Paulina. Physical and emotional absence of fathers is common within the society – “fathers who vanished after children are born: (…) kid is part of a long line of men who ran out on pregnant women”, with women often being “a victim of the same macho spree”.

This is also a profound reflection on poverty and how it shapes one’s life.

“It was the first time I realised I lived among poor people. Maybe I was poor too! They soon made it clear I was different.”

Heringer put the mirror to the world he inhabited where people are moulded by the societal norms and then broken by them.

The Love of Singular Men also deals with death and its impact on the ones left behind, especially the death of our parents and our partners. The world portrayed by Heringer is the world of many lonely funerals where mothers bury their own mothers alone and their children bury them alone.

This leads us to the main theme so present throughout the book, namely, life in the society that makes you feel alone where you are born and die alone, where the only thing that is left after you are gone is a cardboard box of random objects you happened to leave behind, with a few photos with no one left to take care of.

“A lot of people die and there is nowhere for their things to go. (…) I lost count of how many photo albums of lonely dead people I sold. There are people who buy them.”

“When I die, I know someone will come in here (the janitor, my sister, the building manager) and stuff everything that’s mine into a cardboard box, which will end up in one of those skips (I don’t know from which company). I hope someone finds it, because inside will be my notebooks , the photo of the singular boy, Cosmo’s school reports, my childhood drawings… my things have a memory, and their memory is tied to Cosme’s, and his memory is tied to other people’s, and so on. (…) we are all connected; our bonds are cardboard boxes full of junk.”

This is a profoundly moving tale on the human condition with many insights into the Brazilian society of the bygone era.

“Love perpetuates the human race, protects us from sterility and deadliest solitudes.”

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