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  • Is Jorge Amado the Gateway to Brazil, or Not?
  • Alamir Aquino Corrêa (bio)
    Translated by Dawn Taylor (bio)

In the national and international search for a Brazilian identity, we often say and hear that we are the country of soccer, samba, and Carnaval. This has given us a reputation as a party country, lacking commitment, a reputation reinforced by the economic interests of the entertainment industry. For a long time, particularly within the collective consciousness of the Brazilian people, the predominant perception has been that Brazil is not a "serious country" (many have said Charles De Gaulle was the first to use this phrase in reference to Brazil; however, Carlos Alves de Souza, Brazilian ambassador to France during the "Lobster War," cemented its use, and Annick T. Melsan demystified the idea), even though the Brazilian economy and the country's politics have begun to undermine this pejorative reputation.

For most Brazilian intellectuals, especially those socially engaged in finding a solution to the country's disparities, this view of Brazil is tinged with a profound sadness that arises from the absence of an auspicious present and the distance from a redemptive future. This idea can be found in Paulo Prado's book Retrato do Brasil: Um ensaio sobre a tristeza brasileira (1928) (Portrait of Brazil: An Essay on Brazilian Sadness) and in Gilberto Freyre's classic essays marked by autobiographical witness in Casa-grande e senzala (1933) (The Masters and the Slaves: A Study in the Development of Brazilian Civilization [1946]) and Sobrados e mucambos (1936) (The Mansions and the Shanties: The Making of Modern Brazil [1987]). Additionally, Sérgio Buarque de Hollanda in Raízes do Brasil (1936) (Brazilian Roots) and Visão do paraíso (1959) (Vision of Paradise) and Caio Prado Júnior in Formação do Brasil -contemporâneo (1942) (The Formation of Contemporary Brazil [1967]) highlight "the cordial man," [End Page 361] referring to a person who engages in moral negotiation in return for personal favors and who displays the servitude that comprises the colonial mindset.

Perhaps because of this and because of the medieval notion that there is no sin below the Equator (ultra equinoxialem non peccatur)—a notion that determines the geographic location of paradise and that persists in tropicália and MPB (Brazilian popular music)—Brazil has been sought after for another reason both by its inhabitants and by foreigners. Within Brazil lies the locus amoenus, where peace, a joy for life, and an abundance of water predominate (ideas registered by Pero Vaz de Caminha in his Carta a El-Rey sobre o descobrimento do Brasil [Letter to the King Regarding the Discovery of Brazil]). This Brazilian "identity" has become a part of our cultural manifestations. Much of which is presented to foreigners as Brazilian, even to those from what were also once Portuguese colonies, has a hint of the exoticism and freedom typical of the tropics and is imagined as being Dionysian in nature.

Exported Brazilian Literature

Brazilian literature is part of a peripheral culture—a former Portuguese colony with a very different Portuguese language from that spoken in Portugal that only began to interact with other Western languages in the 1930s. The first translations of Jorge Amado's work were done into Spanish: Cacau (1933) was translated in 1935, and Jubiabá (1935) was translated in 1937. The first translation of Érico Veríssimo's work was also done into Spanish; Olhai os lírios do campo (1938) was published in Argentina in 1940. That same year, the first translation of Casa-grande e senzala was also published in Buenos Aires.

Within the context of Franklin D. Roosevelt's "good neighbor" policy, there was also considerable improvement in Brazil's relationship with the United States, particularly regarding Brazilian artistic production. In 1941, Érico Veríssimo gave a series of lectures in the United States as a guest of the Department of State. These lectures were a result of his work translating several North American writers for Editora Globo in Porto Alegre. He returned to the United States in 1943 to become a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. That same year, Veríssimo published Crossroads with Macmillan Publishers, a translation...


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