“Morte e Vida Severina”, by João Cabral de Melo Neto, is the most Brazilian of all Nativity plays. Also known as “Auto de Natal Pernambucano” (Nativity play from the state of Pernambuco), it was published in 1955. It is a long dramatic poem depicting the hard life of migrants chased from their homes by the drought and the violence, common in the countryside in the Northeast region.
The book inspired this amazing short animation produced by Miguel Falcão, unfortunately without subtitles. But you can read part of a bilingual version of this poem on “Selected Poetry: 1937-1990”, on Google Books.
Here is a little list of Brazilian authors you will find there with links to their books. Sorry, guys, I tried to find versions in English and other languages with no success. Personally, I would recommend a visit to dark, mortuary romantic Álvares de Azevedo, to satyrical Bocage, to Lima Barreto, to social observer João do Rio, and, of course, Machado.
Listas Literárias blog asked its readers what were the greatest characters of Brazilian literature. I tend to agree with the results and organized the names in no particular order.
1 – Macunaíma – “Hero without character” conceived by Mario de Andrade in the crazy and iconoclastic twenties. A playful Black man born fully grown from a Amazonian Native mother, he becomes white after bathing in a miraculous spring and moves to Rio where he gets involved with social turmoil.
The winners of the main Brazilian literary award, Prêmio Jabuti, were announced yesterday. Among them, “Ribamar”, by José Castello, considered last year’s best novel; “1822”, by Laurentino Gomes, the best journalistic book, and “Em alguma parte alguma”, by Ferreira Gullar, that got the poetry award.
The Best Cover Award went to João Baptista da Costa Aguiar, that created a sober cover for “Invisível”, the Brazilian version for Paul Auster’s “Invisible”, edited by Companhia das Letras.
You will find here the list of book covers that got the award in past years. (Tip: 2007 was a particularly inspired year)
1º – O resto é ruído – Escutando o século XX – cover by Retina 78, published by Companhia das Letras.
2º – Salas e Abismos – cover by Zot Design, Rara Dias, Ana Carolina Carneiro and Paula Delecave, published by Cosac Naify.
3º – Os Espiões – cover by Rodrigo Rodrigues, published by Ed Objetiva.
“O Romance do Pavão Misterioso” (The Romance of the Misterious Peacock), published in 1920, is one of the most famous stories of literatura de cordel – those booklets produced in a domestic press, illustrated with rustic woodcuts and sold in street markets, hanging from clothes-lines (thus the name, cordel). It is also one of the very few cordel stories that made their way into mass culture.
Attributed to José Camelo de Melo Rezende, it tells the story of a Turkish man, Evangelista (“the son of a capitalist”, says the rimed story), who creates a peacock-shaped flying machine to seduce and kidnap Countess Creuza, the imprisoned daughter of a Greek nobleman. You can read the whole story online (in Portuguese).
In this lovely 1975 short video, extracted from the documentary “Nordeste: Cordel, Repente e Canção“, a cordel salesman recites parts of Romance do Pavão Misterioso.
Half Polish, half black, poet Paulo Leminski was famous for his humor and his haiku that mixed lots of Japanese influence to the concrete poetry that dominated the Brazilian scene in the 60s and 70s (Décio Pignatari and the Campos brothers were the main representatives of Concretismo, in case you are wondering). Leminski’s life was short (he died in 1989, in his mid forties), as short as most of his poems (haiku are composed in a 5-7-5 syllables structure).
These translations by Chris Daniels give you a glimpse of his work. He does a reasonable job, considering all the word play and metric involved. You can also check for Leminski’s own translations (Joyce, Beckett, Mishima, Petronius etc.), novels, short stories, biographies and essays.
You might think it is the blue macaw or the toucan. In fact, sabiá-laranjeira (Turdus rufiventris or, in English, rufous-bellied thrush) became the official national bird in 2002 thanks to a presidential decree.
It was probably chosen because of a famous 19th century chauvinist poem by Gonçalves Dias, Canção do Exílio (The Exile Song), that says: “Minha terra tem palmeiras/Onde canta o sabiá/As aves que aqui gorgeiam/Não gorgeiam como lá” (My homeland has palm trees/ Where the thrush sings/ The birds that sing in here/ Do not sing as they do there). It was written when Dias was in Law school in Portugal.
The whole production of Chico Buarque de Hollanda – arguably one of the greatest composers of Brazilian popular music, and essential to understand both the feminine soul and the country´s cultural life in the last 50 decades – is now accessible and free on the internet. The artist just allowed Instituto Tom Jobim to publish all the (handwritten) lyrics, scores, photos, letters and other texts accumulated during his life. You can also access all his songs, organized by album. It is a huge volume of information that still needs further organization, but it allows to understand his creative process and evolution.
Several expressions deeply ingrained in Brazilian daily language have interesting and unexpected origins. Here are some of them:
1 – Nas coxas(literally, “on the upper legs”. It means “done quickly, with no quality”)
There are two versions for its origin. One version says it refers to the clay tiles used in houses built during the colonial period. They were normally made with a mold in order to be uniform, but sometimes the mold wasn’t available and the slaves would improvise, molding the tiles on their own legs. Because they had several sizes, the quality was very uneven. But the expression might also be a sexual reference – it might be inspired by men who inseminate women’s legs, instead of the right place. Continue reading 5 Brazilian expressions inspired by History→
When I travel I like to do a bit of reading before I leave to give me a little better insight into the country or countries I will be visiting. Not so much history texts or political primers, but rather rich novels written by native authors, since translated into English. Or maybe a sweeping historical novel that lays out a chunk of the country’s history in an interesting and provocative manner.
When it comes to Brazil I have been all over the map. I’ve read novels, histories, biographies and social anthropological texts. The country is so vast and diverse. It’s history is brief, but rich with fantastic tales of discovery, anguish, struggle and triumphs. The culture is an amazing amalgamation of immigrants, natives, slaves, gay, straight, rich and very poor. Brazil is a land of survivors, by hook or by crook.
What follows is a list of books worth considering, if you are looking to understand more about Brazil, it’s history, politics, people and culture. It is not an exhaustive list, of course, but it should serve to get you started. Suggestions for additional reading and why are welcome in the comments section – what would you recommend?
In no particular order:
Anything written by Brazil’s native son Jorge Amado. His novels, set in Bahia, are rich in texture, are written in a fun and lush voice and they always have a sexy hue. Consider: “Gabriela, Clove and Cinnamon”, “Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands”, “The War of the Saints”, or “Tent of Miracles”. There are others.Continue reading Getting to know Brazil – a reading tour→