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Good Offices

by Evelio Rosero

Tancredo is probably about nineteen years old. He is tall, formidably intelligent and hunchbacked. Born in Bogota he was abandoned to the Church and is obliged to it for his life and his living. But the Church, in the person of Father Almida, demands that his life is one of service to the community and to God.. Which is why he is in charge of serving the ninety very old and extremely needy people of Bogota with their lunch on Thursday.

The lunch is one of Father Almida's charitable works for the poor. A two hour wait in all weathers for the side door to the dining room to open does not improve their tempers or their manners. They are fed potato slop (they have no teeth) mashed with bits of shredded pork, all prepared by the three ancient women who work in the kitchens. Tancredo feeds them all and then has the horrible task of driving them all back out onto the streets again, and scouring the walls, floors, chairs and tables after they have gone.

If one of them has died he has to telephone the places where no one ever answers: the institutions and foundations who profess to support Father Almida. "We're on our way", they say, eventually, but Tancredo is left to sit with the decrepit corpse for many hours. No wonder he is consumed with an awful fear of becoming an animal. He is deeply afraid that he might savagely attack someone, urinate on someone's holy head, smash the furniture, or pull up the lay sister's heavy skirt, rip into the apparent innocence of her blouse, paw her breasts and pinch her buttocks. He longs to confess to the Father about his dreadful fear of becoming an animal.

If it seems rather unsporting to so thoroughly enjoy this satire at the expense of the Roman Catholic Church at a time when it is already in reciept of a considerable amount of welly, so be it. GOOD OFFICES is such a joy to read: its humour is gentle while rapier sharp yet it is completely without contempt. The book must be read at least twice in order to appreciate the nuances and the metaphors, the grief for a people's tragedy and the author's hope for their ease and their redemption.

Published by Maclehose, 141pp.

Paula McMaster

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