“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.
“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.
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→
Brazilians have a somewhat disturbing tenderness for certain types of criminals. Let me drop some names that will prove my point: Meneghetti, Adhemar de Barros, Lampião and your generic malandro.
Take, for instance, the figure of Gino Meneghetti. Born in Pisa, Italy, in 1870, he became a huge celebrity in São Paulo, between 1914 and the sixties. He was known as the “good thief”, “the greatest criminal of Latin America” and the “roof cat”, due to his ability of jumping from one house to another to deceive the police. The public passion for Meneghetti florished thanks to the massive media coverage of his feats and the fact that he never hurt anybody, only stole from the rich and performed spectacular escapes.
The second name in our list: coffee producer and politician Adhemar de Barros, the very popular governor that ruled over São Paulo state during part of the forties, the fifties and the sixties. One of his mottos, of striking candor, is still remembered by those who distrust politicians: “Roubo, mas faço” (I steal, but I also build). Indeed, he was very hard working and left a legacy of power dams, roads, schools and hospitals. But his government was also marked by several corruption episodes. Till today you can find elder adhemaristas that still long for those days.