Before I go into the detail of this review, I want to state up front that the original novel was written in Portuguese and that the English version, that I’ve read, may not reflect the same quality of work. For Gonçalo Nunes Dias’ sake, I truly hope that the original version isn’t nearly as riddled with typos and confusing sentences which have most likely been generated due to a direct translation.
The Good Dictator follows an average Joe, Gustavo, as the world learns of the existence of an alien spacecraft on the moon. Although stuck in a monotonous life, working for the council’s IT department and stuck in a loveless marriage, Gustavo is shaken from routine as his fascination of the object causes him to start preparing for the end of the world.
The beauty of the book is within the minutely detailed crafting of each character and the author’s clever insight to make each character relatable. In particular, capturing Gustavo’s vices along with positives and establishing his detailed routines and characteristics.
Although there are times when it feels as though you’re being read a character’s factsheet, there is no denying that Dias breathes real life into each of his creations.
His wife worked at a yogurt factory in Arruda dos Vinhos, but she had a more complicated working time compared to Gustavo: she got in at nine in the morning and generally left at seven p.m. albeit she was responsible for quality control, her salary did not correspond to her responsibilities or to her dedication to her job. She was clearly exploited by the company.
The story progresses slowly, which for the most part is supported by the fine details of Gustavo’s life, such as his weekend with the in-laws, lunch breaks with colleagues or perhaps a philosophical discourse on the morality of bull fighting.
Killing an animal for fun, after having tortured it for an hour, is a cultural tradition as worthy as those age-old fights between angry dogs and bears that happen in Afghanistan, or the stoning of women in Iran, or even the public hangings of thieves that occur in Saudi Arabia. Yes, I know a man is different from an animal, but that’s not the issue here, after all who are we to stop allowing any kind of tradition?
But, as I reach the 20% progress mark there is still little to show for it, and the author is starting to lose my engagement. Combined with the increasing number of writing mistakes (it seems the first chapter is better proofread than others), it became difficult to justify pushing through the story, merely in the optimistic hope of unearthing a fantastic plot.
Unfortunately, translating a novel creates whole new areas that require it to be proofread and edited all over again and, to do justice to your work, requires more than just a translator.
Ultimately the novel needs a further round of editing (certainly in English) and the author should consider the horrible reality of making cuts to ensure better pacing. But, the narrator’s voice is strong and original, certainly filled with potential.