054_Global13_Arena_V5

Global 13

Arena Arts Brazil’s new literary voice Behind the global headlines of Brazil’s upcoming sporting events and past economic successes, young novelists are gradually gaining a quiet notoriety abroad for their inventive prose, unique slant and insightful portrait of life in modern Brazil – helped by new translations and the latest publication of Chico Buarque, the country’s most famous musician-turned-writer A bridged the gap between the elite of the university milieu he inhab-ure. Fired by the urban music revolution of late 1950s Rio, whichgave the world the bossa nova, Buarque began writing songs thattangible sense of Brazil’s literary confi dence came with therecent publication of a book by one of Brazil’s best-knownmusicians. Chico Buarque – novelist – was fi rst published in English just over 20 years ago. His fourth novel,Leite derra- ited (his father was a renowned historian) and the unlettered poor mado, which translates asSpilt Milkand is published by Atlantic of vast swathes of a nation, then, in the 1960s, beginning to grind in London, is a tour de force of rage and humour, a memory- and its way out of entrenched inequalities in land distribution. It was sex-drenched inner monologue by centenarian Eulálio Assumpção, also ruled by a dictatorship. dying in hospital in Rio. He has really loved only one woman, Ma- Exiled for a year and a half in 1969 for his socialist preoccupa- tilde, but she vanished – and her vanishing underpins his pungent tions, Buarque became in the 1970s a hero for both the politically regrets about the world and his once-greedy place in it. disaffected and the poor, a constituency in which he will probably The novel crackles with atmosphere and laughter, strumming remain better known for catchy but profound music than in the many of Brazil’s familiar refrains, “My grandfather was a promi- educated Brazilian minority who read his novels. Yet there is no nent fi gure under the Empire, a Grand Master and a radical aboli- doubt that this man-of-the-people’s shift from samba ballads and tionist. He wanted to send all Brazil’s blacks back to Africa... His political protest to mainstream literature marked a certain, if sym- own slaves, after they had been freed, chose to remain living on bolic, reinvigoration of the Brazilian novel, calling North Ameri- his properties. He owned cacao plantations in Bahia, coffee planta- ca’s and (some of) Europe’s publishing attention to a tradition of tions in São Paulo, made a fortune, died in exile and is buried... at fi ne writing that might otherwise have seemed obscure. the foot of the mountains, with a chapel blessed by the Cardinal In fact, the tradition is rich: Buarque has always loved the French Archbishop of Rio de Janeiro.” and the Russians, but the infl uence of signifi cant, pioneering Bra- Spilt Milk is, though not obviously so, a memoir of modern Bra- zilians, such as the 19th-century Joaquim Machado de Assis and zil – a saga of property and race, words that might fi gure in the the 20th-century Mário de Andrade, struck deep in him, as in many subtitle of any factual account of the country. The book recalls as others. Brazil’s literature, especially during and after the Spanish- much William Faulkner and the unsparing narratives of Paris’s American ‘Boom’ of the 1960s and 70s, which put Gabriel García postwar existentialists as it does apparently more closely related Márquez on the map, was perhaps a little forgotten; but – behind Latin-American landmarks, such as Carlos Fuentes’s novel The the scenes – Brazil’s poetry and fi ction have been as inventive and Death of Artemio Cruz. original as its music. Long before Buarque turned his hand to fi ction, he was a sing- Underlining this vigour and variety, Granta – another London er-songwriter (at home he is called a composer) of national stat- imprint and literary magazine – recently published a volume of 54 lwww.global-briefing.org first quarter 2013global


Global 13
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