The first (original) MacLehose Press publication of 2021 will be Kokoshka’s Doll by the multi-talented Portuguese writer, animator, illustrator and musician Afonso Cruz. It is an original, beguiling, whimsical and digressive confection that tells the story of two families from Dresden who are fractured and displaced by the devasting bombing of the city in 1945.
The title is taken from a real-life episode in the life of the Austrian painter Oskar Kokoschka, who was so devastated by the end of his affair with Alma Mahler that he commissioned a life-size doll in her image (see this article for a deep dive into a rather creepy tale). The doll plays a small part in the novel, but has a profound impact on its characters, who include: a bird shop owner who follows the instructions of a voice coming from under the floorboards, a woman whose hands are mysteriously marked with the stigmata, an author who steals an unpublished manuscript by Thomas Mann, and a millionaire whose dream is to find a method to weigh the human soul, measuring evil and sin with a hydraulic scale.
Afonso Cruz is regarded as one of Portugal’s finest authors to have emerged in recent years. He won the European Prize for Literature for Kokoshka’s Doll, and many of his other novels have also been prize-winners, including the intriguingly titled Jesus Christ Drank Beer, which was chosen as the best novel of the year by readers of Time Out Lisbon. And as of January a new distinction will be his: he will be the only MacLehose Press author to have contributed the illustration for his own cover. Is there no end to his talents? Probably, but it doesn’t stop there. He is also a musician, a member of a band called The Soaked Lamb.
Kokoschka’s Doll is translated from the Portuguese by Rahul Bery