St. Orberose’s informal Brazilian literature event concludes for no better reason than that I’ve ran out of books to write about. The small collection I amassed during the May-June Lisbon Book Fair has been consumed, and it’s time to resume normal service. But first I’d like to explain how what I at first thought would be a theme week escalated into a two-month event.
Sometime in the final months of 2012 I realized that no Brazilian writer had yet graced St. Orberose with his presence. That was hardly a surprise since, contrary to evidence, I’m not in the habit of reading Brazilian literature. But I reasoned that, much like the unknown Portuguese authors I enjoy divulging, I was in a position to bring some attention to a couple of Brazilian writers unknown to English readers. So I decided to store reviews until I had enough to devote a week to Brazil. My ego was smaller in the past. I remember the first, and for a long time only, review I wrote was for Ferreira Gullar’s Cidades Inventadas.
Then last January Richard e-mailed me, inviting me to join the Grande Sertão: Veredas read-along. The epic story of how I acquired a copy of this illusive book has been narrated before, though not in octaves and heroic decasyllables. Anyway May was approaching and I figured I could use the weeks prior to the read-along to finally showcase some Brazilian literature. The occasion seemed perfect. The positive aspect of this is that I finally got a good reason to read Tocaia Grande and O Mistério da Ilha do Pavão, books I had forgotten in my vortical (and vertical; this redundant aside only exists because my word processor keeps correcting vortical to vertical and to redly tell me vortex does not have an adjective. [An even more redundant aside: since vortical is the adjective of vortex, I checked the dictionary to see if vertical could possibly be the adjective of vertex; and what do you know? It is! But my word processor does not consider vertex wrong. Does that mean vertex is more popular than vortex?]) book pile since the 2012 Lisbon Book Fair.
The tragic irony is that I enjoyed reading these books better than João Guimarães Rosa’s Grande Sertão: Veredas. In fact the read-along was weeks away and I was realizing I had no interest in finishing the novel, which I had already speed-read from page 200 to 400, hoping something of interest would start happening sooner or later, let alone write a series of posts about it. I had nothing to say save that it was a waste of my time, and that important announcement I could reserve for this moment. So I just scrapped the original idea and decided to focus on Brazilian literature. My failure to appreciate this seminal novel, nonetheless, takes nothing away from the fine posts Richard, Scott and Rise have been writing about it.
So without a main book to write about, and with only a handful of reviews ready, in order to add more to the mix I hastily put together a few lines from what I still remembered of my readings of Carlos Drummond, João Cabral de Melo Neto and Euclides da Cunha. I calculated that, if I managed my time and posts well, I could keep May active with posts long enough to restock at the book fair.
More than half what I’ve written about was eventually purchased there as I looked around for books by Rubem Fonseca, Ferreira Gullar, Clarice Lispector, Mário de Andrade and the others. Save for a few disappointments, I made an excellent selection. I did not have a particular criterion except that I wanted to try several of the Camões Prize recipients. Most I blind bought. But although not looking for a direction, I was nevertheless amused to find in so many of them the spectre of Canudos and recurrent themes: utopianism, the romanticization of bandits, the view of the army as invader, the brutal process of modernizing the backlands, themes that João Ubaldo Ribeiro’s An Invincible Memory put for me in a wider historical context of which Canudos is but one side.
Although Jorge Amado and João Ubaldo Ribeiro are the heirs of the romance nordestino (Northeast novel), with a preference for the countryside, I’m glad my purchases also included some books in urban settings, like Agosto and The Vampire of Curitiba. Considering Brazil has gigantic metropolises, it’d be misleading to give the impression every Brazilian lives in a little village in the middle of the jungle. Looking back, I think I made an inclusive selection. There were novels, short-stories, novellas, a memoir, reportage, and poetry. Poetry seldom receives its due, which is a mistake since it’s the exponent of any literature. Therefore I was happy for sharing whatever I could of Carlos Drummond, João Cabral de Melo Neto, Vinícus de Moraes and Ferreira Gullar. I noticed my post about Dirty Poem was one of the least read posts of the month; that’s understandable since I was in a bad mood when I wrote it. Regardless it’s one of the most exceptional poems I’ve read in recent memory.
These last two months were quite demanding but also worthwhile. I am, however, anxious to return to a milder rhythm in July. Nevertheless I thank everyone who followed this informal event and left a comment. As for João Guimarães Rosa, perhaps we’ll still see him in my blog one day, maybe when I’m feeling more patient, or maybeI’ll try Sagarana. But enough obscure Brazilian writers for now, it’s time to go back to obscure Portuguese writers for a while.