House Of The Fortunate Buddhas

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

First published in Brazil as part of a popular series of novels on the Seven Deadly Sins, HOUSE OF THE FORTUNATE BUDDHAS takes lust as its subject. Purporting to be the autobiography of "a 68-year-old in Rio," the book, confides novelist Joao Ubaldo Ribeiro, was left at his doorstep with a note authorizing him to publish it under his own name.

The reason for this obfuscation is that the unnamed narrator is writing openly and frankly about not just her own sex life but sex in general. To say that she enjoys sex is a laughable understatement: she enjoys getting it on with men and women, threesomes and even foursomes; even a domesticated animal or two. Anything to do with sex is good, especially when it involves defying some religious, moral or legal taboo, like sleeping with your brother or seducing a priest or nun.

"In reality, my life has a single common denominator, which is the fact of my having dedicated it basically to the healthy satisfying of my lust. I'm proud, very proud of that...Anything in grand scale assumes grandeur. I firmly believe that's my case, and I can't look at it any way but with pride," the narrator boasts.

Over a span of 147 pages, she describes in detail her many sexual encounters and escapades, beginning when she was a young girl on her grandfather's plantation and getting it on with one of the help, a little black boy named Domingo, and finishing up in her 70s in Rio where, whenever she feels like having "a little quick action," she can pick up the phone and order a young man or woman with her credit card.

In her estimation, the liberation of mind and body is what life is all about. She is proud to have broken all of the rules, both religious and secular, which have historically kept most of the human race--especially women--from enjoying sex. Out with virtuousness and monogamy, in with licentiousness and free love.

Far from considering herself a sinner, the narrator defiantly insists that "the one who sins is the person who doesn't do what he was created to do."

HOUSE OF FORTUNATE BUDDHAS is an outrageous book, one that revels in its cheekiness, satire and bawdiness. It also offers up a nifty bit of literary ventriloquism: a man writing in the voice of a woman. Some feminist critics feel Ribeiro has failed in that regard and claim his novel is nothing but a fantasy of female sexuality--high-class pornography, really. Yet the book was not only a best-seller in Brazil, France, Italy and Spain, but was turned into a hit play. Since it's almost always the women who buy books and decide on entertainment, it's clear that the feminists have been given short shrift here.

(Dalkey Archive Press, translated by Clifford E. Landers. Ppbk, $12.95)