- Reviewed by
Brazil rivals any country in its ethnic, cultural, and artistic diversity. Within a single book, it is no small challenge to acknowledge the plurality of the country's narrative vision without sacrificing main ideas, or making Brazilian fiction appear to merge with the expression of other modern societies. Robert DiAntonio does a good job of walking this fine line between Funes and Procrustes. The texts discussed range from the 1960s to the 1980s. The author presents several overriding ideas, and discusses selected texts as illustrations of each idea.
There is a concern with politics. Since the period under study covers Brazil's military dictatorship, the short-lived euphoria of its "opening" and the disillusionment caused by subsequent political and economic disorder, sociopolitical obsessions are understandable. The author's paradigmatic text is Ivan Ângelo's novel, A festa, which blends different modes of discourse and juxtaposes scenes from an elegant party with those of various social upheavals.
DiAntonio also examines participation in consecrated literary traditions. He discusses Clarice Lispector's short story "Mistério em Sào Cristóvào" and Joào Ubaldo Ribeiro's Sargento Getúlio to show how writers have built on timeless myths (those of the paradisiacal garden and of redemption through sacrifice, respectively), adapting them to correspond to current circumstances. Other writers, such as Darcy Ribeiro (Maíra), ironically undo mythic visions, such as that of the messianic union of disparate peoples. Also, novels by Márcio Souza (Mad Maria and Galvez, Imperador do Acre) are discussed for their absurdism, madcap burlesques of quasi-historical political and economic projects, where ambitious human undertakings are shown to be illogical, illusory and ultimately meaningless.
In examining ethnic awareness, the author's case in point is Moacyr Scliar's O centauro no jardim, which fancifully depicts the attempts of Jewish immigrants to reconcile their ethnic identity with the desire to assimilate. And in considering dystopic visions, DiAntonio finds that Ignácio Loyola Brandào's novels Zero and Não verás país nenhum exemplify a current resembling science fiction and a dire apocalpytic depiction of social reality verging on absolute chaos. Finally, metafictional discourse and experimentation with innovative narrative techniques are illustrated through discussion of short stories by Murilo Rubiào and the novel A hora da estrela by Clarice Lispector. [End Page 287]
Practically all of the texts discussed at length are available in English translation. Citations are in Portuguese and English. DiAntonio relates the main texts to numerous other important contemporary works by Brazilian writers. One strength of the book is that its author also shows a good knowledge of contemporary works from other countries and introduces them for comparison where appropriate.
DiAntonio has an impressive grasp of a continually evolving area of study. His selection of exemplary texts is judicious and takes account of the most important narrative voices. Recourse to literary theory is appropriately limited; where it does occur it is somewhat superficial. Those hoping for in-depth analysis of the texts may be disappointed, for the book is more descriptive than analytical. But where the field is as little known as this, there is clearly a place for this sort of expository project. DiAntonio's book is a fine introduction to Brazil's rich contemporary literary panorama for the uninitiated and a helpful update for many Brazilianists in this country who may find it challenging to keep up with recent developments.