It is hard to conceive of São Paulo as a single, coherent city because of its massiveness. Similarly, it is hard to conceive of Luiz Ruffato’s Eles eram muitos cavalos (EEMC) as a novel because of its lack of plot, character development, or narrative continuity. These difiiculties regarding categorization are related to the extraordinary success of Ruffato’s book, one of the most outstanding works of Brazilian fiction of the twenty-first century. It creatively joins form and content: Ruffato’s fragmented narrative of a day in São Paulo resonates with the fragmentation of the city, with a glimpse of the wholeness, albeit exacerbating, of both São Paulo and EEMC. These themes of fragmentation, unclear categorization, [End Page 212] form’s relationship to content, and exacerbation in the text and the city are central to the essays in Uma cidade em camadas, the first book of essays on Ruffato’s novel.
Fifteen essays and an introduction comprise Uma cidade em camadas. The essays, all written in Portuguese, range from under three to almost thirty pages. Most are traditional literary criticism, but a few read like spoken introductions (Helder Macedo’s) or casual book reviews (Marisa Lajolo’s). The first and last essays (by Andrea Saad Hossne and Carmen Villarino Pardo, respectively) offer a broader context, especially insightful for readers with little knowledge of Ruffato's literary career. The former focuses on Ruffato’s other books and the latter focuses on his biography, the publishing market, and his achievements as a writer and as an editor of anthologies.
Many of the essays note how EEMC is influenced by Brazilian modernism, especially Oswald and Mário de Andrade's experimentations in representing São Paulo and their interest in spoken Portuguese. Many contributors mention Cecília Meireles’ Romanceiro da Inconfidência, the source of Ruffato’s title that begins with its enigmatic Eles, highlighting the characters’ anonymity, often increased by alienation. Mirroring the sentiments evoked by the title, Harrison, quoted in Leila Lehnen’s essay, observes “a clear lack of communication, if not a blatant absence of civility or compassion” that “contributes toward an overall feeling of alienation” (83) in EEMC. Although Harrison only has an introduction in Uma cidade em camadas, three contributors refer to her essay on EEMC published in the Luso-Brazilian Review, revealing her thoughtful analysis of the novel.
Some of the contributions are especially provocative. Lehnen’s excellent essay examines the working class’ exclusion from public services as a form of social violence. This theme permeates the novel and the city, disorienting urban individuals, redefining social contracts, and causing instability at home. Violence, chaos, migration, displacement, and socioeconomic inequality pervade Uma cidade em camadas. Its essays reveal a São Paulo on the decline, marked by urbanization without progress and increasing economic divisions. However, Renato Cordeiro Gomes, quoting Ruffato himself, offers a more optimistic spin on the novel: “a literatura cria um mundo com a pretensão de mudá-lo, como no meu caso” (139).
Gomes’ and Karl Erik Schollhammer’s insightful essays offer dynamic analyses of the esthetic aspects of EEMC. Gomes notes how the novel’s experimental fonts and graphics expose the artifice of the language employed to represent the city (137) and how many of the novel’s fragments, which appear to be copied from newspapers, menus, and personal lists, make the familiar unfamiliar to critically understand it in new ways (136). Schollhammer describes these “found” aspects of the text as “word objects” that, instead of signifying the city, impose the reality of the city on the novel (72).
Lúcia Sá makes a compelling argument for the strange coherence of the novel’s fragments that, although disconnected, make more sense when read together (96). She views Ruffato’s choice to offer many stories of individuals told [End Page 213] by different narrators as an individualized alternative to the reductive generalizing of the masses (98) or the single gaze of a flaneur who contemplates a crowd (94). Nelson...