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Volume 52 / Humanities

LITERATURE: BRAZIL: Novels


REGINA IGEL, Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, University of Maryland, College Park

AS THE 21ST CENTURY BEGINS, BRAZIL is contemplating a generation of writers who apparently are aloof to literary trends, currents, waves, or fads. Following their own whims, the novelists represented here demonstrate a diverse range of topics and styles. Their narratives embrace urban occurrences, historical passages, allegorical subtleties, symbolic representations, and surrealistic landscapes, among other manifestations of their writing talents. It is difficult to label current Brazilian writers with any one style; they are mostly characterized by their individual attempts to interpret the realities, dreams, and past and present of their country. Therefore, a geographical reading of the novels following the settings of the works or the birthplaces of the authors seems to be advisable.

Leticia Wierzchowski, an award winning author, from the south of Brazil, describes a part of the history of her native state, Rio Grande do Sul, in her first novel, O anjo e o resto de nós (item #bi2003005148#) as she traces the story of one family through three generations. Rio Grande do Sul has inspired a copious number of novels by writers from the state, among them, as Moacyr Scliar. A prolific author, Scliar's recent work, Eden Brasil (item #bi2003005096#) creates an imaginary reserve park where actors simulate biblical scenes related to Genesis. From the same state, author Luiz Antonio de Assis Brasil offers a foreigner's view of the country in 1893 in Pintor de retratos (item #bi2003005058#), which recounts the story of a painter turned photographer in the midst of a hinterland rebellion in Rio Grande do Sul.

Another riograndense, Jose Clemente Pozenato, of Italian descent, is author of A cocanha (from "cocagne" in French and "paese de la cuccagna" in Italian, symbol of a utopian land that fascinated 19th-century European immigrants) (item #bi2003005144#). Known for his fictional accounts of Italian immigration to Brazil, in this narrative Pozenato recovers historical facts related to the arrival and settlement of Italians in Rio Grande do Sul, emphasizing their individualities and idiosyncracies as they face the New World. In another work under review, O caso do e-mail (item #bi2003005090#), Pozenato departs from his usual theme, to write a detective thriller in which an entire web leading to the murderer is linked to one line in an e-mail.

Domingos Pellegrini Jr., another writer from the southern region (Londrina, Paraná), writes about revolutions and military and civil insurgencies in Brazil throughout the 20th century within a fictional account of research undertaken by a graduate student working toward her MA degree.

The hinterland of São Paulo state is the main setting for Sombras da repressão: O outono de Maurina Borges (item #bi2003005080#) by Matilde Leone. The narrative portrays some of the methods used by the Brazilian military dictatorship in expelling a nun to Mexico. The novel's protagonist, a young researcher, visits Ribeirão Preto, in the hinterland, in order to try to understand the period of the dictatorship and the nun's ideology.

Rio de Janeiro is the setting for A múmia do rosto dourado do Rio de Janeiro (item #bi2003005073#) by Fernando Monteiro. In this detective novel, the author produces a fragmented narrative by describing scenes through a broken path of thoughts and distilling characters' perceptions through splinters of paragraphs, in an attempt to emulate the inconsistencies found in time and space.

The same city is the main setting of Praia de Ipanema (item #bi2003005059#), by Theo Filho, a re-edition of a work first published in 1927. More of a document than a literary piece (as indicated by the preface's author), it conveys, in a fictional way, the controversial plans of developers to transform a large area of Rio's forest into what became the well-known Ipanema beach. Another re-edition of an almost forgotten publication is Inferno verde (item #bi2003005098#) by Alberto Rangel, first published in 1908. Considered a classic at the time, it is perhaps not so readable today, yet it is still a source of information and fascination for those interested in the rainforest.

Far from the literary formalities found in those 20th century works, is Cangalha (item #bi2003005083#) by José Humberto Henriques, a linguistic dive into literary experiments. The versatile novel is enriched by the author's reflections on the history of three generations and by his use of settings dear to Guimarães Rosa in the hinterland of Goiás and Minas Gerais (his home state). Also set in the backlands is Cheiro de Deus (item #bi2003005072#) by Roberto Drummond, which focuses on a matriarch in a belligerent region of Minas Gerais. Because she is blind, the woman is determined to arrive at the end of her days with her sense of smell intact, so that she will be able to recognize God. Another novel situated in the hinterland, in the state of Mato Grosso state, is Rio abaixo dos vaqueiros (item #bi2003005061#), by Ricardo Guilherme Dicke, who was born and raised in the landscape where the narrative is set. The story focuses on leading figures of the "sertão," who, in accordance with traditional accounts about the region's dwellers, are fighting for possession of land and cattle, but the novel maintains its originality by mingling biblical figures among living characters.

Tasso Franco, writing mostly about Bahia, his home state, is the author of the historical novel Catarina Paraguaçu: a mãe do Brasil (item #bi2003005081#) that deals with the myth of a Luso-Amerindian society formed by the descendants of Diogo Álvares Correia, nicknamed "O Caramuru," and his Indian wives (Moema and Paraguaçu), who lived in Bahia around 1510. Also set in that state is the narrative Lisabria de Jesus, ou o estigma de Caim (item #bi2003005136#), by Alan Viggiano, an experimental novel that includes musical elements, an unusual graphic disposition of its pages, and a unique division into parts and chapters.

From the northern state of Ceará, the land that was hit terribly by a sequence of droughts, comes A saga de um povo (item #bi2003005068#), a narrative on the tribulations and despair of the "cearenses" in their forced migration to the Amazon. Narrator conveys, through daily dramas, their stamina and determination to control their own destinies, a feat that very few were able to accomplish.

At the other temporal extreme we have a science fiction novel by Ruy Tapioca, Admirável Brasil Novo, which portrays the country some 40 years from now pervaded by ugly realities (item #bi2003005086#). The prismatic future depicted includes most of the problems that are common in contemporary media headlines, ranging from corruption in the high spheres of political administration to unemployment in the cities, to an absence of official assistance in rural areas. Despite the vivid influence of Orwell and Huxley, Tapioca's writing does not share their pessimistic views. Instead, his main character carries an optimistic message of hope to the otherwise somber prospects awaiting Brazil in the future.

Emerging from Brasília, is the final work of the trilogy by João Almino, As cinco estações do amor (item #bi2003005078#), a recollection of years spent in the country's capital by a woman who is returning for a gathering of old friends. Of significance here is the narrator's female voice, which obliterates any input by the male author. Besides its interesting plot covering life in Brasília of its many different characters, the novel may stimulate studies of gender and narrative voice in literature.

As indicated earlier, it is not possible to categorize the current batch of novels within a particular style. It is feasible, however, to point out each novel's own characteristics, such as innovations in style and graphic arrangement; a strong tendency to deal with urban issues, without neglecting the problems related to the backlands, among other typifying elements. These phenomena are not limited to narratives created in one state or another, but may be applied to fiction published around the country, as the representative novels indicate.


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