I have now read twenty Brazilian novels in a row by twenty different authors. The oldest one was first published in 1902, the most recent in 2014. Six of the novels were by women. This is the seventh years in a row I have done this and I am not running out of countries. Indeed, I have a list of twenty-three countries for future years. Brazil, however, is the first of the countries that I have not visited. Of the future twenty-two countries, there are five I have not visited and I do not think I am likely to visit them any time soon.
The first two conclusions could apply to any of the previous six. The problem was not scrambling to find enough books but, rather, deciding which books to exclude. As my significant other frequently tells me, I have far too many books. Indeed, looking through what I did not read, I wonder why I did omit certain authors.
The second conclusion is that, like it or not, much of the world is in a mess, as regards the political situation, and Brazil is certainly no exception. This means that it is reflected in its literature. I did not consciously set out to read (or, indeed, to exclude) political books but there they were. The twenty I read had insurrections, a historical president as a character, regional problems, local problems, the influence of religion on politics, women’s issues, military dictatorship, communism, torture of political opponents, global warming, corruption, drugs, prisoners, contract killers and several references to Getúlio Vargas, the president who killed himself while in office. Indeed, one way or the other, politics crept into most of the books, even if it was not the main theme.
Humour was not a big theme. Indeed, only one of the novels – Roberto Drummond‘s Hilda Furacão (Hilda Hurricane) could be said to make much use of humour though Oswald de Andrade‘s highly experimental Serafim Ponte Grande (Seraphim Grosse Pointe) was certainly playful. That is not to say that humour did not appear in any of the others – it did – but was not a key feature.
What did appear was poverty. Brazil has a lot of poverty and while few of the books made any extensive use of the issue as theme, several did mention it. Indeed, the revolution in Euclides da Cunha‘s Os Sertões (Rebellion in the Backlands; later: Backlands: The Canudos Campaign) was inspired to a great extent by poverty. The slums of Rio and São Paulo did make more than one appearance.
Surprisingly, given that Brazil has a higher proportion of blacks than the United States, race played a relatively minor role. This may well because I read the wrong books or because Brazilian books talking about the black experience have not been much translated. Words Without Borders discussed the issue.
Not surprisingly, the majority of the novels were set in Brazil but four had substantial settings outside Brazil. When I did my Turkey marathon last year, Aslı Erdoğan‘s Kırmızı Pelerinli Kent (The City in Crimson Cloak) was interestingly enough set in Rio. She hated it. None of the Brazilian novels were set in Turkey but Moacyr Scliar‘s Os leopardos de Kafka (Kafka’s Leopards) was set partially in what is now Ukraine and also in Vienna, Nélida Piñon‘s A república dos sonhos (The Republic of Dreams) was set partially in Spain (specifically Galicia), Adriana Lisboa‘s Azul-corvo (Crow Blue) was set partially in the United States, Antônio Xerxenesky‘s F was set partially in Paris, partially in Cuba and partially in the United States, and Bernardo Carvalho‘s Mongólia [Mongolia] was set almost entirely in Mongolia, but did manage to capture violence and kidnapping in its short scene set in Brazil.
I am reluctant to pick a favourite, though I did very much enjoy Mongólia [Mongolia] and Os Sertões (Rebellion in the Backlands; later: Backlands: The Canudos Campaign). I certainly learned a lot more about Brazil though I have to admit reading these books did not inspire me to visit the country, given the violence, poverty, drugs and very hot weather. Perhaps reading books is the best way to travel these days, given all the various problems world-wide.