A Cup of Rage is a Brazilian novella by Raduan Nassar first published in 1978 as Um Copo de Cólera. In this elegant Penguin Modern Classics edition it arrives into English for (I believe) the first time, translated by Stefan Tobler, the publisher at And Other Stories. Clearly, Penguin outbid Tobler and his own (small) publishing house for his work here, a fact that is justified as A Cup of Rage is a stunning, beautiful text that deserves heady, mainstream notice from the literary scene*.
Raduan was of a second generation immigrant family, and he grew up in rural Brazil before moving to tha citay to study Law. He was a successful novelist, editor and journalist, but from 1985 onwards he dedicated his life to farming. In A Cup of Rage he explores lust, desire, power, class, gender and age. He discusses respect and sensuality, wealth and poverty, freedom and oppression, fulfilment and regret. There is heady, frank, sexuality; there is deep political discourse and there is, throughout, a modernist stream of consciousness that grips the reader by the throat and the eyes and the loins. This is fired up, hot, political, sex writing.
The novella is split into seven chapters, six of which are tiny, one of which is about two thirds of the book. We see a man arriving home to find his lover waiting for him. They tease each other, arouse each other without touching and then move into the bedroom where they indulge in passionate, sensuous fuck-making. After many hours of this and a little snooze, they shower together, again with great physical connectedness, have a breakfast served by the man’s religious and scandalised maid (though she’s used to her employer’s sex-having ways) before the lovers go outside to say goodbye. Then, in a thirty page chapter (in a 45 page text) titled “The Explosion”, the man notices that leaf-cutter ants have eaten a big hole in his privet hedge, and his rage at this turns the lovers’ tender goodbye into a massive, free-flowing argument that touches on every aspect of each of their lives. It’s huge and it’s angry and it’s tense and it’s sexual and sensuous and literary and divine. It grips despite being difficult and it oscillates in its tone without ever truly losing its way. These 30 pages are written as a single sentence, a single explosion, a single moment in the lives of two people… In the end they come close to fucking on the bonnet of the woman’s car, but not before they’ve abused each other (physically and emotionally) and not before each of them have felt completely out of control, lost to the other, lost to their lover. Power and control slides from man to woman: she is younger and freer and richer and more intelligent; he is older and stronger and more established; she came to him a sexual naif, he taught her Love with a capital L, the stem of which is shaped like a throbbing erection with the balls as the base (of the L).**
Nassar’s prose (as translated by Tobler) is rich and engaging. The sex is erotic, I think perhaps because the narrator’s focus is neither exclusively on his own pleasure nor the pleasure of his lover: the narrator speaks about the sex they are having together, a mutual enjoyment of physicality. They switch the lead, they both incite and excite the other, and the way they fuck is exactly the same as the way they argue. There are major and minor crises throughout, there is a build up and a slowing down, there is a rush and an intensity and a concluding wish to be apart for a while… But after the argument we see them again, together, about to begin another two-person orgy.
The prose is as silky and fibrous as bodily juices. It slides into the mind and the consciousness with no pause and no pain. Nassar’s sharing of detail is great and open and indulgent. If I have one criticism of A Cup of Rage it is that it’s a little literarily indulgent. Although the process and the reading of the argument is flawless, its dominance over the rest of the text weights the novel too much in its latter half. For it feels like the second half, when really it is far more than that. The piece becomes a novella about anger, about anger masquerading as lust, about lust masquerading as anger. About the sense of ageing or a lack of clarity in ones future turning into desire. About wanting to fuck a middle-aged man in the countryside because he knows what he’s doing in the bedroom even though you don’t with you life when you’re at home… Life is all about emotions that spin us in different directions. Nasser argues that all of them come back to desire, come back to anger, and come back to an idea of the self and the body as something that must be protected (be that by a privet fence) and satiated (by food, sex and violence).
I want to read this again. Every chapter is a sentence, every sentence is a lengthy and complex exploration of a state and a space. This is sex-writing that is both erotic and realistic, this is a text dramatising anger that isn’t aggressive in itself, this is a piece set about as far from Europe as you can get, but where sex, class and money are still the most important things, for these are what it means to be human. These are what time has lead the experience of being human to become.
Each of us is a cup of rage, waiting to explode into violence or sex. That’s too simplistic a reading, but it’s a nice sound bite, kinda. Almost. Maybe.
A Cup of Rage is gorgeous, modernist literature and it comes*** highly recommended. Give it a go.
* I’m not a part of that. I don’t even have any acquaintances who read any more. Well, “read” in the way I do, as if it’s the only thing that matters. (Which it is.)
** I would try to draw that, but I lack the artisitic ability.
*** LIKE COMING IN SEX