Bernardo Carvalho: Mongólia [Mongolia]

The latest addition to my website is Bernardo Carvalho‘s Mongólia [Mongolia]. A young Brazilian, son of an important CEO, goes missing in Mongolia and a diplomat, working temporarily in the Brazilian Embassy in Beijing, is sent off to find him, though he is seemingly reluctant to do so. He eventually gets some idea why the missing son had disappeared, involving Buddhist goddesses, a diary in Tibetan and a young Buddhist nun who is raped by an abbot but later helps him to flee Mongolia when Stalin closes down the monasteries and murders the monks in 1937. Our diplomat (none of the Brazilian characters are named) has to hire a guide and heads off to the remote parts of Mongolia looking for the missing son, with a host of problems involving weather, insects and unreliable informants but beautiful landscape, all made more complicated by the diplomat’s impatience and impetuosity. It is a superb book, wonderfully told, with a completely unexpected twist. Sadly it is available in French, German and Italian but not English.

João Ubaldo Ribeiro: Sargento Getúlio (Sergeant Getúlio)

The latest addition to my website is João Ubaldo Ribeiro‘s Sargento Getúlio (Sergeant Getúlio). Sergeant Getúlio is a tough and brutal sergeant in the military militia who has to take a prisoner from the backlands to Paulo Afonso, Bahia. However, there are a lot of people who do not want him to succeed but the sergeant is a very determined and ferocious man. The story is told in a monologue by the sergeant who is proud of the many violent and brutal acts he has committed, including torturing his current prisoner, killing his pregnant girlfriend when she cheated on him and killing at least twenty people (he has, as he says, lost count, as with the number of women he has had). We may admire him for his courage and determination – nothing and nobody will stand in his way – while despising him for his cruelty and violence, albeit in a very cruel and violent part of the country.

Mário de Andrade: Macunaíma (Macunaíma)

The latest addition to my website is Mário de Andrade‘s Macunaíma (Macunaíma). When it first appeared, this was quite a revolutionary book, in that it was unlike other Brazilian novels of the time. We follow the story of Macunaíma, who is a trickster, a mythical person, who can perform magic but who is always up to no good, particularly where the opposite sex is concerned. We follow his birth and early years (he has sex with his sister-in-law when he is six years old by changing into a handsome prince), his accidental but foretold killing of his mother and his journey, with his brothers, to São Paulo, where they encounter a man-eating giant, whom he kills twice and who kills him twice. Both survive their deaths. We meet talking animals, people turned into stars, the Sun and her three daughters, and a host of other magical creatures, people and events, all written in a colourful language and all focussing entirely on Brazil and things Brazilian. It is great fun, very original and entirely unpredictable.

Adriana Lisboa: Azul-corvo (Crow Blue)

The latest addition to my website is Adriana Lisboa‘s Azul-corvo (Crow Blue). Our heroine is Evangelina, known as Vanja, a thirteen year old, born in the US but who has spent most of her life in Brazil with her Brazilian mother, Suzana. Like most of the women in the family, Suzana dies young and Vanja is left with Elisa, her mother’s foster-sister. She tracks down Fernando, her mother’s ex-husband and her legal (but not biological) father, in the United States. She contacts Fernando, a former Brazilian guerrilla, and he takes her in. With his help and the help of Carlos, the son of illegal Salvadorean immigrants, she endeavours to track down her biological father, who may not even know of her existence. The issue of who our real parents are, of the issues surrounding immigration, both legality and cultural aspects as well as the guerrilla war in Brazil are all key to this excellent novel.

Erico Veríssímo: Caminhos cruzados (Crossroads)

The latest addition to my website is Erico Veríssímo‘s Caminhos cruzados (Crossroads). This tells the stories of a host of characters who live on or have connections with a street in Porto Alegre, where Veríssímo lived. It is a thoroughly miserable tale. Most of the characters, rich or poor, married or single, young or old, are unhappy with their lot. A woman is unhappy about their financial problems. Her husband wins a large sum on the lottery and she is even more unhappy, worried about thieves, beggars and pedlars and worried that they are still living beyond their means. Married men are unfaithful, with lovers or going to prostitutes. Most of the children do not get on with their parents and vice versa. Some are genuinely poor, with one married man having lost his job, spending his time reading novels instead of looking for another job while his wife and son have little to eat. There is no redemption, no happy ending as their lives seem to get worse over the course of the book.

Graça Aranha: Canaã (Canaan)

The latest addition to my website is Graça Aranha‘s Canaã (Canaan). We initially follow two German immigrants to Brazil who are looking to buy a plot and grow coffee. The two, however, are very different. Milkau is eager to enjoy the New World and keen on nature, while Lentz still very much feels that European civilisation is superior and has the right to exploit what he considers a primitive country and people. Despite their differences, they remain friends and business partners. Later in the book, however, we meet Mary, daughter of German immigrants but born in Brazil. Her father dies before she is born and her mother works as a servant. Mary also becomes a servant in the family, when her mother dies. However, when she becomes pregnant by the grandson of the patriarch and the patriarch, her protector, dies she is thrown out. Things go from bad to worse for her, despite Milkau’s help. At the same time, we also see the Brazilian legal system in action, a totally corrupt system, of which Mary is one of the victims. This is a Brazilian classic, as much for the important themes it deals with as with the quality of the writing,

Nélida Piñon: A república dos sonhos (The Republic of Dreams)

The latest addition to my website is Nélida Piño‘s A república dos sonhos (The Republic of Dreams). This is a long and complicated family saga, which jumps around chronologically – we start off with the family matriarch, Eulália, dying but she takes six hundred pages to do so. Madruga is an ambitious young man in Galicia, Spain some time after the First World War. As the region is poor, many Galicians emigrate to Brazil, with some succeeding but many returning as failures. Madruga manages to raise the money, aged thirteen, and heads off to Brazil, where he will make his fortune. He returns to Galicia to marry a Galician woman, and they have six children, one who dies as a baby and another who is killed in a car crash as an adult. Much of the book is about the dysfunctionality within the family but also about their dreams and the stories, particularly those Madruga learns from his grandfather, which will continue to influence him throughout his life. It is a superb and complex tale, one of several first-class novels written by women of that era in Brazil.

Rodrigo de Souza: Todos os Cachorros São Azuis (All Dogs are Blue)

The latest addition to my website is Rodrigo de Souza‘s Todos os Cachorros São Azuis (All Dogs are Blue). Rodrigo de Souza suffered from mental health issues and, for a long time, would not leave his house. This novel is the story of an unnamed narrator who is in a mental hospital, as a result of a psychotic episode. He is now thirty-six but has had mental issues since the age of fifteen. We follow his story: the chip implanted in him by the CIA and KGB, the aliens who are coming to take him away, his imaginary friends, Rimbaud and Baudelaire, how he avoids taking pills, the sad stories of many of the poor of Rio with mental health problems and his obsession with the colour blue, the colour of his stuffed dog and of the pill Haldol. He is finally released, only to start an (imaginary) religion called Todog, of which he is the leader. At times, he is lucid, most of the time he is not. It is a grim and sad tale of a man unable to cope with reality.

Roberto Drummond: Hilda Furacão (Hilda Hurricane)

The latest addition to my website is Roberto Drummond‘s Hilda Furacão (Hilda Hurricane). This is a very witty novel about a young woman from a prosperous background who gives it all up to become a prostitute and very successful she is, as all the men fall for her. Why does she do it? Our hero, a communist and journalist, tries to find out, while helping his two friends, one a saint, Malthus, and the other a gigolo, and also getting involved in the plan of the Catholics and a property developer to move the red light district out of the centre of town (Belo Horizonte) to the outskirts of town. Things get more complicated when the saint is trying to exorcise Hilda Hurricane and sees her for the first time. His reaction is similar to that of the other men. Roberto has also his own love problems, two very religious aunts, a keen love of his local football team, his journalistic career, political upheaval in Brazil and bad toothache. It is witty. It is clever and it is very lively. But was there really a Hilda or is she just an April fool’s joke?

Lima Barreto: Triste fim de Policarpo Quaresma (The Patriot; later: The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma)

The latest addition to my website is Lima Barreto‘s Triste fim de Policarpo Quaresma (The Patriot; later: The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma). The book is set in the 1890s and is a satire on the people of the era. Our eponymous hero is a respected civil servant, a bachelor who lives with his unmarried sister. He is also a committed patriot, spending his time reading books about Brazil. His problems start when he submits a proposal to Congress that Tupi-Guaraní , a native language of Brazil, should be the official language of the country instead of Portuguese. It gets worse when he inadvertently submits a document he has translated into Tupi-Guaraní to a higher authority and he is suspended and has a breakdown. Convinced that the Brazilian soil is the most fertile in the world and the Brazilian peasant hard-working, he heads for the country where his views are severely tested. When a rebellion breaks out, he, as a former army major, rushes to the service of his country. As the title tells us, it does not work out well. Barreto mocks virtually everybody, but particularly politicians and the military, but it is the good if naive man, Policarpo, who pays the price.