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The Past is an Imperfect Tense

by Mauricio Torres and Sue Branford


A well-to-do white couple living in São Paulo, Brazil, adopt a black baby. The Past is an Imperfect Tense tells the story of this father-son relationship, which begins with great love and affection but ends up in ruin and rejection. Things start to go wrong in the boy’s adolescence, when he becomes involved with marijuana, amphetamines and crack cocaine, a process the narrator calls ‘the frenzied pursuit of an artificial paradise.’

Three factors come together in the story of the boy’s life: adoption, drug addiction and racism. The father, who narrates the story, asks himself, ‘Would it have been possible, at any point, to change the course of this story? Or was it all destined to be?’

Uncomprehending, the father seeks explanations in psychology and psychoanalysis, consulting research on drugs and adoption. He attends support groups for the families of addicts. And he comes face to face with the impotence and cynicism of psychologists and psychiatrists who have no clude how to deal with the curse of addiction. He shares his discoveries and reflections, his pain and bewilderment.

The result is a poignant novel which confirms Bernardo Kucinski at one of Brazil’s leading contemporary authors.

The author

Bernardo Kucinski has received Brazil’s Jabuti Award on two occasions and was awarded the Brazilian Library Literary Prize in 2014 for the best short story collection (Vôce Vai Voltar Par Mim). He was also a finalist for the International Literature Award in 2014 and was shortlisted for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for the English version of his novel K in 2013.

The novel was translated from the Portuguese by Tom Gatehouse.

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The Past is an Imperfect Tense is beautifully illustrated with pen and ink drawings by Enio Squeff, who also collaborated with Bernardo Kucinski on K.

What readers have said about this work

Like Kucinski’s first novel, K, this is a powerful evocation of parental love and loss. The [novel] juxtaposes scattered memories, retrospective regrets and scientific research as the narrator looks back over his son’s life and tries to piece together what went wrong.

Claire Williams, Associate Professor of Brazilian Literature and Culture at the University of Oxford

Kucinski tells [the] story by moving between Brazil and Israel, against a background of anti-black racism, social and political brutality, the migrant Arab diaspora experience, and the plight of the Palestinians. And in so doing he manages to suggest, subtly but powerfully, how his traumatised characters’ struggle to survive as a family, to come to terms with the scars of abandonment, deception, prejudice and guilt, might also stand for a broader condition of exile and precarity in our contemporary world.

David Treece, Camoens Professor of Portuguese at King’s College, London

Published by Practical Action Publishing and LAB, May 2020

ISBNs: eBook: 9781788530903 Paperback: 9781788530873 Hardback: 9781788530880

Price: ePub and Paperback: £9.95 Hardback: £25.95

Available to purchase here