Short Story Review – Luís Romano – Old Isidoro (trans. Jeff Hessney)

Beware the vengeance of a discomforted priest.

Isidoro is a stinking old man, homeless, a beggar, and perhaps evil.  It is said that

at night he turned into a spirit and that during the day he hid in cliffside caves where no one could come near him. Others swore he stole children’s souls on the seventh day after they’d been given birth.

The rumour of his misfortune and turn to evil is that he was excommunicated by a priest.  An old lady gives the story to the narrator, explaining that Isidoro was once rich and fortunate, but things turned sour on the night of his wedding.

What happened?  Well, he was out at midnight, and so was the priest who was to bless the marriage.  In his enthusiasm, he shot a gun into the air which spooked the priest’s mule, who bolted and fell off a cliff, drowning the priest.

But not before he hurled a curse at the man who had frightened his animal.

And so, because priests have power, Isidoro went from riches to rags, literally cursed via the power of Christ.

“The priest’s body disappeared forever, and to this day his malediction still pursues Isidoro, now a tortured soul, forever doing penance in this world of tribulations because of a curse sworn before dawn by a priest, the rightful representative of Jesus Christ on Earth, at the moment of his death, in the times when we on the Island believed in the Devil’s doings and in the power, art, and cunning of that Beast . . . by the sign of the Holy Cross . . . LUCIFER!”

Romano confuses the power of Christ and Lucifer, and clearly has sympathy for Isidoro, who was punished too much for what was, in effect, a tragic accident.  He doesn’t quite go far enough as to expressly write this sympathy into the characters, leavening the criticism of the priest with hints that Isidoro had learned witchcraft in his travels, and perhaps because of this, somewhat deserved his fate.

Is it fair to be punished so?  Does fairness come into the machinations of good and evil?  Perhaps.  Or perhaps we are unable to understand completely how an act could be good or ill when seen through the prisms of such elemental forces.  The story itself is not long enough to address these concerns, but they are there, and the lack of judgement over Isidoro’s actions, and criticism of the priest’s, sends a pretty clear message.

This is the first short story I’ve read from Cape Verde, and certainly the first translated from the Santo Antão dialect of the Cabo Verdean language.  The footnotes alone suggest that there are layers to this piece that I am unaware of.  This comes from the May 2020 Words Without Borders magazine, and perhaps now will herald the start of more literature arriving in English?  Time will tell.

Old Isidoro is a short story by Cabo Verdean writer Luís Romano, translated by Jeff Hessney.  

Author Luís Romano
Title Old Isidoro
Translator Jeff Hessney
Nationality Cabo Verdean
Publisher Words Without Borders



2 thoughts on “Short Story Review – Luís Romano – Old Isidoro (trans. Jeff Hessney)

  1. Good afternoon Damian. I actually translated the story and was happy to read your comments!

    Adding another possible layer of complexity to things, the following paragraph made me suspect that Romano may have tried to leave readers with a hint:

    “It was pitch-black, and even today people wonder how the priest had ventured out at such a grievous hour on muleback, without so much as a lantern to light his way, wandering about like a ghost in search of the fate he’d been assigned.”

    Indeed, as those familiar with Santo Antão can attest, venturing out at night there without some source of light is extremely risky, given the island’s topography. One possibility that crossed my mind is that the priest may have been on his way back from a final illicit encounter with Isidoro’s fiancée, which would shed a slightly different light on the issue of culpability (if, indeed, Romano was the type of author who would pass judgment on his characters – which, based on some of his other writings, particularly “Os Famintos,” he was capable of being, although my feeling is that this story was more of a rumination on the irony of fate than a morality tale) and on whether Isidoro’s subsequent immersion in madness was the result of supernatural or mundane factors.

    Of course, this is one of many possibilities, but with Romano no longer with us (and not a little contentiousness and bitterness among his heirs), there’s unfortunately no one to ask.


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