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August 18, 1991|Charles Solomon

TALES FROM THE MOUNTAIN by Michael Torga, translated by Ivana Carlsen (Q.E.D. Press: $12.99). Twice nominated for the Nobel Prize, Michael Torga ranks as the most respected contemporary Portuguese writer. Previously unavailable to English readers, these stories set in the Tras-os-Montes (Beyond-the-Mountains) region of Portugal were written in 1941, but suppressed by the dictators Franco and Salazar. Sharply observed and sardonic, Torga's brief tales describe the wearying existence in an inhospitable region where "the rhythm of life is the rise and fall of the spade against the hard soil." The suspenseful "The Hunt" seems to be an ordinary tale of revenge and offended honor, but its slyly understated ending takes the reader by surprise. "Renewal" describes the ravages of the influenza epidemic of 1919 on the region, when so many people perished that the local priests stopped ringing the bells for the dead, rather than have the death knell toll continuously. In "The Sacristan's Position," a decent man learns that no one dies of a broken heart--however much he might wish to.

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