by Evelio Rosero
Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean Anna Milsom
Tancredo, a young hunchback, observes and participates in the rites at the Catholic church where he lives under the care of Father Almida. Also in residence are the sexton Celeste Machado, his goddaughter Sabina Cruz, and three widows known collectively as the Lilias, who do the cooking and cleaning and provide charity meals for the local poor and needy. One Thursday, Father Almida and the sexton must rush off to meet the parish’s principal benefactor, Don Justiniano. It will be the first time in forty years Father Almida has not given mass. Eventually they find a replacement: Father Matamoros, a drunkard with a beautiful voice whose sung mass is spellbinding to all. The Lilias prepare a sumptuous meal for Father Matamoros, who persuades them to drink with him. Over the course of the long night the women and Tancredo lose their inhibitions and confess their sins and stories to this strange priest, and in the process reveal lives crippled by hypocrisy.