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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Enigmas of Spring

João Almino

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Title: Enigmas of Spring
Author: João Almino
Genre: Novel
Written: 2015 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 203 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: Enigmas of Spring - US
Enigmas of Spring - UK
Enigmas of Spring - Canada
  • Portuguese title: Enigmas da primavera
  • Translated by Rhett McNeil

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting approach to engaging with present-day issues and events

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The young central figure in Enigmas of Spring is very much a dreamer -- and he is even presented as not-quite-real: "let's call our hero Majnun", the author suggests in the opening chapter, assigning the character a name that then pairs well with the woman he falls in love with: Laila (as in the classic love story of Layla and Majnun, most famously in Nizami's epic). His actual dreams -- into which he falls deeply and completely -- are vivid and, to him, very lifelike -- and offer him an entrée into the world that currently preoccupies him, fifteenth century Spain and the (Islamic) Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, with repeated encounters with Boabdil (Muhammad XII, the last of the Nasrid line in Granada).
       An aspiring history student in contemporary Brazil, but having failed the university entrance exam, Majnun is somewhat at sea; among his other current ambitions are to write a novella (not a novel, but a novella). With a father who is dead (of an overdose) and a mother who has long been institutionalized, he has grown up with his supportive but aging grandparents -- and his grandparents on both sides of his family have both experienced much more, their travels and activism ("Every one of them had a story to tell about an era of major events") a contrast to his sedentary, easy life in a very stable society.
       Majnun is anything but atypical for his generation:

I don't know what I want to be, I can't find a job ... I spend my afternoons alone, dedicated to my inner world or on Twitter and Facebook.
       With little experience, his perspective is limited:
The world was that which he read in history books and, above all, what he saw on the internet.
       History is being made around him, too: the novel starts in January, 2011, and an ocean away the Arab Spring begins to take shape. But Majnun's engagement is less political than religious, as he considers converting to Islam, seeking out more information about it and wondering whether he can find what he is looking for in it. Almino uses this, in particular, to present considerable dialogue and debate about the nature and specifics of Islam -- though the emphasis is definitely on scope, not depth, with most of the debate at a rather superficial level.
       There's also Majnun's passion for Laila -- who is not only fifteen years his senior but is also married. Most of their relationship plays out at a distance, rather than in person; eventually, it also adds considerable drama to the story.
       Majnun does break free from his limited existence, first leaving his grandparents' home and then even venturing to Spain, where he is able to visit some of the sites of his dreams, including the Alhambra. His engagement with Islam -- as with most everything -- is earnest but shallow; he argues for and about it with the well-meaning enthusiasm, and the ignorance, of the adolescent.
       Enigmas of Spring is very aware of present-day history. Much of the debate surrounds the events of the unfolding Arab Spring, but also extends beyond that -- as Almino's main locales are Brazil and Spain -- and includes references to such works-of-the-moment as Stéphane Hessel's Time for Outrage ! The contrast to Granada under Islamic rule -- and the transition of the fifteenth century -- is a fairly effective and interesting one, even as Almino uses it only as one of perhaps too many tracks in the novel. Closing, after an intermission of a year and a half or so -- in June 2013, Almino ends the book in the middle of the (domestically significant) 2013 protests in Brazil, Majnun having embraced a more local activism -- but at least becoming active: "Carmen could no longer accuse him of preferring solitude".
       In many ways, Enigmas of Spring is a Bildungsroman, tracing Majnun's path to the beginnings of adulthood: independence, hopeless love, trying to find a place in the world, whether in religion or in the political. It is also suggested that Majnun becomes more of a writer: "All he'd experienced would end up as words", the novella in progress taking on a firmer shape.
       Enigmas of Spring immerses itself and its characters in the events of the (recent) day. The immediacy has its appeal -- it's good to see a writer tackle this head-on, almost in the moment -- but also poses difficulties; ultimately, Almino, and his very green protagonist, can only dig and go so deep.
       While impressive in many of its pieces -- both of the present and the distant past --, and with a surprisingly busy plot (including a carjacking that involves a dead dog, and a murder), Enigmas of Spring remains a bit thin.

- M.A.Orthofer, 26 April 2017

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Enigmas of Spring: Reviews: João Almino: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Brazilian author João Almino was born in 1950.

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© 2017 the complete review

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