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RICHARD A. PRETO-RODAS, Professor of Spanish and Portuguese, University of South Florida
MAJOR BRAZILIAN CRITICS like Antônio Cândido and Fábio Lucas have long emphasized the relevance of socio-historical circumstances to their country's literature. Such relevance is especially noticeable in the case of the crônica and its concern for the significance of the moment. It is not surprising, then, that the current scene in Brazil is wonderfully captured in all its diversity by that country's popular literary genre. Judging from recent examples, however, the moment is a trying one these days; a reduction in the number of crônica titles suggests that the pace of publication has fallen victim to the general state of Brazil's economy.
The examples selected come from a considerable bibliography which includes many works only loosely related to the modern crônica. The fact that the term is still invoked to designate reveries, historical narratives and profiles from the past and present adds to the confusion. Many recent titles classified as crônicas are in reality political commentaries, moralistic essays, and reminiscences which have little in common with our topic. The true modern crônica must be regarded as a genre which celebrates ephemeral reality with a view to shedding some light on the human condition. It is only with this latter type of crônica that we are concerned here.
The 16 collections of crônicas considered below include some by important figures from the past, such as José Américo de Almeida (item bi 89004565), perhaps better known for his pioneering work with the novel based on life in the Northeast, and Carlos de Laet (item bi 89004572). The universally positive reception to Laet's work, first mentioned in HLAS 48 (1986), justifies yet another reference at this time. Another voice from the past is that of the genre's best-known devoté, the late Carlos Drummond de Andrade, whose abridged diary is a veritable panorama of crônicas in germ spanning 34 highly productive years (item bi 89004577). Other lesser known figures like Almeida Cousin (item bi 89004573) and Frederico Morais (item bi 89004578) have been reissued to speak to the modern reader of simpler times and provincial settings. To be sure, even they sometimes deal with contemporary questions, as in Cousin's sour view of 60 years ago concerning US interests in Nicaragua.
The once urban-oriented crônica has recently grown to encompass a rural perspective (see HLAS 46, p. 523-528 and HLAS 48, p. 549-553). As current examples we may cite two writers from the South, Natálio Herlein (item bi 89004568) and Apparicio da Silva Rillo (item bi 89004567), who provide collections of causos, or anecdotal vignettes, of gaúcho life along the Uruguayan border. Another development, the anthology of crônicas linked by a common setting (see HLAS 46, p. 523-528), is best exemplified by the work of Apicius, the classically derived nom de plume of a restaurant critic who casts a critical eye on dining out, especially in Rio de Janeiro (item bi 89004569). Yet another recent trend, the crônica as classroom text, is exemplified by an edition of some of the best works of Luis Fernando Veríssimo (item bi 89004571). The editor, Maria da Glória Bordini, stresses Veríssimo's literary prestige and provides a useful essay analyzing the writer's skills and remarkable comic talent, along with some insights on the crônica in general.
The remaining titles selected for review are all as contemporary as they are diversified in subject and style. Veríssimo has contributed yet another tour de force (item bi 89004570), whose persistent theme is that survival in these times requires a zany sense of humor and an ability to cope with ambiguity. As in previous endeavors, Veríssimo deftly continues to employ dialogue as the preferred structural device for his pieces. A similar theme inspires a colleague, Marcelo Cerqueira (item bi 89004555), who prescribes the carioca's adaptability and famous tolerance as antidotes against urban chaos. On the other hand, a more traditional stance is suggested by Mario Graciotti (item bi 89004574), who looks to the Church for guidance in turbulent times. These three and the remaining authors all seem to suggest that their country's fortunes are at a critical juncture. It is not surprising, therefore, that the appearance in recent years of a crônica with a decidedly jaundiced view (see HLAS 48, p. 549-553) is reinforced in these accounts of political incompetence, social upheaval, ecological destruction and deteriorating municipal services. The fact that such troublesome topics are often treated with verve and wit is a tribute to the indomitable spirit of the authors.
It is hardly surprising that an overview of contemporary crônicas finds less and less of the inconsequential humor and quiet charm prevalent in the genre during the 1950s-60s. Accordingly, a common point of departure involves returning to a past when beaches and neighborhoods were safe and clean, families intact, and trust and cordiality epitomized Brazilian virtues. In general, then, today's crônicas provide strong support for the critics mentioned above who see a symbiosis between socio-historical context and literary production. There is no doubt that both the social historian as well as the lover of Brazil's literature and culture can find much to appreciate in that country's most cultivated form of contemporary literary expression.