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Volume 52 / Humanities

LITERATURE: BRAZIL


Short Stories

MARIA ANGELICA GUIMARÃES LOPES, Associate Professor, Department of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, University of South Carolina, Columbia

BECAUSE MOST OF THE BOOKS REVIEWED for HLAS 52 were published between 1982-88 (and the great majority in 1986-87), the present assessment of the genre in Brazil is not that much different from the one in HLAS 50 which covers 1982-87 (with one-third of them published in 1984-86). The economic instability which limited if not the writing at least the publication of short-story collections remains as it was five years ago. In other words, publishing houses have been forced to reduce the publication of stories and settle for more lucrative fare such as best-seller translations, self-help manuals, educational texts, and works of famous authors which always guarantee sales. Also profitable are reprints of classics and successful recent story collections.

Still, from the economic and name-recognition viewpoint, there are incentives for story writers, both established and new. Literary associations, governmental and other entities, and universities work together to award prizes for good story writing. Some of the most lucrative of these are issued by corporations such as Nestlé, with its prestigious "Bienal de Literatura" awarded to various literary genres. The Brazilian public pays attention to literary events and sometimes writers do attain celebrity status. Although authors are often advised to write novels because "stories don't sell," the genre is nevertheless popular in Brazil. Indeed, the story long ago replaced poetry as the first contact of most readers with Brazilian literature.

The deaths of several literary figures in the last years is a cause for regret. The dean of "crônicas," Rubem Braga, and José Cândido de Carvalho, a writer of fantastic tales, lived to ripe old ages, but Oswaldo França Júnior's death in a car accident at a relatively young age cut short an impressive literary career.

Among the many themes of the recent Brazilian story, the most notable one is black liberation (items bi 92009082, bi 90006402, bi 90011847, bi 89004021, and bi 90006411). Most authors of these works are "committed" in the Sartrean sense of engagé and belong to the Quilombhoje Group (i.e., "Heroic Slave Rebellion Today"). This black movement is of necessity different from the one in the US where miscegenation is not as pervasive as in Brazil. It is also different from movements such as négritude in countries with predominantly black populations such as those in the Caribbean. After Gilberto Freyre (1900-87) published his classic studies of the biological and spiritual miscegenation of Brazil, it has been regarded as one of the major elements of the nation's identity and culture. Brazil is perceived as a fusion of aboriginal, European (mainly Portuguese), and African elements: for generations, schoolchildren have recited that Brazil is "the flower of three sad races" (Bilac). For the intellectuals and artists who are members of Quilombhoje, helping fellow blacks out of economic difficulties is as important as telling them and other Brazilians about significant African traditions.

Feminism, a dominant theme in previous years, is not as pervasive in stories canvassed for this Handbook. It is true that Schmaltz (item bi 90011851) deals with these issues in a splendid manner, and that Ferreira (item bi 89004025) and Freitas (item bi 89004015) are also very good. The intelligent irony in Tavares' stories (item bi 90011835) is also notable. Still, one misses the variety and wealth of women authors who in the 1970s-80s wrote from a female perspective (see HLAS 46, p. 516).

Overall, most collections examined for HLAS 52 show a balanced concern for style as well as a vital awareness of current Brazilian reality. Among established writers who continue to produce are Pólvora, Ramos, and Dourado, with the latter two expanding their fictional territory and honing their craft. Dourado's marvelous tales have made his mythical Duas Pontes a very real locus in Brazilian fiction (item bi 90006405). Younger writers Abreu, José, and Martins have "arrived" after producing a sizable corpus of consistently good fiction (items bi 90006415, bi 89004004, bi 89004011, and bi 89003995).

The reissue of out-of-print works by writers such as Athanázio (item bi 90006414), and Porto Alegre (item bi 90006416) not only honor these deserving authors, but also serve to introduce young Brazilians to their cultural and literary history. Young and contemporary writers, on the other hand, continue to submit their stories to literary contests that serve to promote new talent.

Overall, a pessimistic mood permeates most of the fiction annotated below, with two exceptions: the inventiveness and good humor of Mariotti's and Krahl's tales brought frequent smiles to this reviewer's lips (items bi 89004014, and bi 90006409).

To conclude, one could say that there are no major departures from the last biennium. The subjects range widely from concern for the dispossessed, to anguish and fear of life's dangers, to the enchantment and magic of childhood. Stylistically, these stories vary from matter-of-fact journalistic style to ultra-literary tales of Baroque convolution and word play. There is no doubt that despite the economic crisis and other problems the genre continues to thrive in Brazil.


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