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Volume 54 / Humanities

LITERATURE: BRAZIL


Novels

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

PROFESSOR ALEXANDRINO SEVERINO of Vanderbilt University, my predecessor as contributor to the BRAZILIAN LITERATURE: NOVELS chapter of HLAS, died on April 25, 1993. He was diagnosed as suffering from a brain tumor, roughly one year before his death. During the years of our acquaintance we kept in touch through letters, exchange of publications, and personal meetings at congresses in this country and in Brazil. He was indefatigable in his Brazilian and Portuguese studies in the US. I shall always remember his bright mind, his beautiful smile, his joie de vivre, his exceptional kindness to friends and colleagues and his intense love of our literatures. A collection of essays in his honor, Homenagem a Alexandrino Severino: essays on the Portuguese-speaking world, has just been published (Austin: Host Publications, 1993, edited by Margo Milleret and Marshall C. Eakin).

The year of 1993 also marked the passing, on Sept. 13 and at age 94, of Austregésilo de Athayde, President of the Brazilian Academy of Letters. His life was almost entirely devoted to literary interests and the administration of the Academy. He became an emblematic figure at Academy gatherings and other public events.

The same year celebrated the 31st anniversary of the coveted Juca Pato Prize, awarded to the octogenarian author Rachel de Queiroz. Established by the Uni o Brasileira de Escritores (UBE) and the newspaper A Folha, the prize is a tribute to the "Intelectual do Ano" who is selected by designated writers. Critic Fábio Lucas, the 1992 prize recipient, delivered the 1993 trophy to Ms. Queiroz, who began her writing career in 1930 (see item bi 93011647). One year earlier, Ms. Queiroz published the novel Memorial de Maria Moura (item bi 93011647), a dense narrative that constitutes the culmination of her literary career. It concerns an extraordinarily engaging woman of great determination in a world of farmers, bandits, and idle family members.

People living on farms, large tracts of land, and forests are also depicted in a significant number of novels issued during the last three years. Examples are: Carmo Bernardes' Perpetinha: um drama nos babaçuais (item bi 93011660), set in the backlands of Goiás; Francisco Dantas' Coivara da memória (item bi 93011565), a work that deals with how landowners abuse their power over the peasants in a sugarcane plantation; and Antonio Elias' A promessa (item bi 93011677), a narrative in which a man's somber memories describe his trajectory from a rural to urban setting. About the topical and tragic problems of the Amazonian region there are three strong novels: Amil Alves' Espaço violento (item bi 93011651), Paulo Jacob's O coraçao da mata, dos rios, dos igarapés e dos igapós morrendo (item bi 93011584), and Miguel Oliveira's Salve o verde da esperança (item bi 92017342), all of them coalescing into a collective cry of anguish that will draw attention to the destroyers of the Amazon and its tropical forest.

Other authors continue to pursue time-honored historical narratives such as Izaías Almada's O medo por trás das janelas (item bi 93011675), an interesting reconstruction of the intense times lived during the period of the Inconfidência mineira, and Assis Brasil's two novels about foreign invasions in Brazil, Villegagnon, paix o e guerra na Guanabara, describing the French in Rio de Janeiro (item bi 94004935), and Nassau, sangue e amor nos trópicos, concerning the Dutch settlement in the region that today is part of Pernambuco state (item bi 94004935). Other works that are also in the spirit of reconstructing the past are Ana Maria Miranda's O Retrato do Rei (item bi 93011650), and a fine fictional record of the Guerra dos Emboabas (item bi 93011650), emboabas being Portuguese and Brazilian men who searched for gold in the colonial period. Gold diggers are also the main interest of at least one more author, Adson da Silva Costa, in Mocororô: romance do garimpo (item bi 93011653). The figure of the Martyr of Brazilian independence emerges among the gold mines to tell his story "in the first person" in Pascoal Motta's Eu, o Tiradentes (item bi 92017351). The interaction of love and history is the predominant subject of Ary Quintela's Amor que faz o mundo girar, based on the life-story of Giuseppe and Anita Garibaldi, the romantic Italian-Brazilian couple who fought in the Revolução Farroupilha (1835-45, see item bi 93011673).

In addition to the traditional topics noted above, Brazilian fiction also covers various other subjects that range from conflicts among Antonio Bivar's urban dwellers in Chicabum (item bi 93011682), to problems of transcontinental travelers such as those of Rubem Fonseca's protagonist in Vastas emoçoes e pensamentos imperfeitos (item bi 94004885), through the tribulations of Chico Buarque de Holanda's ultrasophisticated hero in Estorvo (item bi 93011595). The latter author, one of Brazil's finest and most acclaimed composers, will, after this novel, also be recognized as a major writer.

Modern life in the US and its myriad problems are depicted in Paulo de Carvalho Neto's Los ilustres maestros: de como a Guerra do Vietn alienou as universidades norte-americanas (item bi 92017374), a derisive record of reactions in academia to the Vietman War while the author was a faculty member in an American university.

Also set in a foreign land is the provocative work by Ronaldo Lima Lins, As perguntas de Gauguin (item bi 94005037), which addresses various secular questions about the human condition, relationships, ideologies, and political allegiances while the protagonist travels from England to Brazil. Distant countries also serve as the setting for immigrant novels, usually in the form of memoirs about the process of adaptation to a new land. Examples are Rodolfo L. Martensen's Danuta (item bi 92017350), a love story involving the daughter of a Polish family in the south of Brazil; Fusako Tsunoda's Cançao da Amazônia: uma saga na selva (item bi 94004930), a chronicle-novel about a Japanese rural community in the north of the country; and Marcos Iolovitch's Numa clara manh de abril (item bi 93011600), a semi-biographical account of the struggle for survival of the author's Jewish family in Rio Grande do Sul.

To an extent, one can compare the anxieties and discomfort experienced by expatriates in foreign lands to the distress and alienation of certain individuals in their own countries. This is exemplified by emancipated women who have undergone the comparable uneasiness of foreigners when trying to overcome what they view as oppressive surroundings and obstacles to their personal and professional growth. Such alienation is the theme of Celeste (item bi 92017343), the avant-la-lettre feminist protagonist of a novel written under Maria Benedita Bormann's pseudonym "Delia." The problems portrayed in the new and revised edition of that work, a century-old novel, are still with us as attested by Judith Grossman's contemporary work Cantos delituosos (item bi 92017352). In it, a woman ruminates about the consequences of her having chosen solitude as her path. Self-evaluation is also the topic of Elisa Lispector's Além da fronteira (item bi 92017378), with the difference that here the male protagonist is the one who debates his choices in a book written by a woman; Maria Helena Póvoa's O abismal: o nome do rosto (item bi 92017354) also reports on the same process of self-exploration, but once again in a woman's voice.

In addition to the variety and skill evident in the treatment of fictional topics described above, three noteworthy books of criticism have been recently published on three important topics: Brazilian modern fiction, the formative years of our novel, and Brazilian women as writers. Modern fiction is investigated by a gathering of the most distinguished Brazilian critics in a book edited by Randal Johnson, Tropical paths: essays on modern Brazilian literature (item bi 93009194). Flora Süssekind, another celebrated Brazilian critic, explores the genesis of the Brazilian novel in O Brasil n o é longe daqui (item bi 94004866). Finally, women are examined in Elódia Xavier's Tudo no feminino, a mulher e a narrativa brasileira contemporânea (item bi 94004863). This anthology of critical essays includes studies that range from defining terms such as feminina and feminista to an exploration of the marginality of women in Brazilian society that sheds light on the notion of what is a "feminist identity."

Creativity in both the imaginative and critical realms is evident in the aforementioned authors who attest to the immense reservoir of inventiveness and originality that exists in Brazil today.


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