Good Offices, by Evelio Rosero. Published 2011 by New Directions. Literary Fiction. Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean with Anna Milsom.
Good Offices is a small book for a quiet night. At 120 pages a mere slip of a novella, it tells the story of a small parish church in Bogotà, Colombia, one night when Father Almida, the regular priest, and his sacristan are gone and the flamboyantly drunk, flamboyantly wonderful singer Father Matamoros, takes over.
The church runs a soup kitchen for the poor, and the workers- the hunchbank Tancredo, the sacristan's goddaughter Sabina and three older woman known collectively, and simply, as the Lilias- are so abused and overworked that they've lost hope and the ability to feel compassion towards their charges. Tancredo and Sabina are lovers but their passion has a kind of desperation about it, a kind of hopelessness. All five have secrets from each other and from the world, and something about the chaotic Father Matamoros catalyzes them and forces them to confront what they're hiding from themselves and each other.
This is a book to be read slowly, over a glass of wine or a cup of tea- a book to linger with, but one that you can easily digest in a single quiet evening. I loved watching these characters unfold and getting to know their disappointments, their joys and their sorrows. Tancredo is a fascinating, surprising man, the antithesis of the churchyard hunchback stereotype; Sabina has a vivacity about her and the Lilias turn out to be not so interchangeable after all. There is violence beneath their daily duties, and something about Matamoros unhinges this mismatched congregation, maybe for the better. Good Offices is a unique, memorable little novel about doing good for others and what it does to onesself.
FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.