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Memory’s Turn

Reckoning with Dictatorship in Brazil

Rebecca J. Atencio

Publication Year: 2014

After twenty-one years of military dictatorship, Brazil returned to democratic rule in 1985. Yet over the following two decades, the country largely ignored human rights crimes committed by state security agents, crimes that included the torture, murder, and disappearance of those who opposed the authoritarian regime.
            In clear and engaging prose, Rebecca J. Atencio tells the story of the slow turn to memory in Brazil, a turn that has taken place in both politics and in cultural production. She shows how testimonial literature, telenovelas, literary novels, theatrical plays, and memorials have interacted with policies adopted by the Brazilian state, often in unexpected ways. Under the right circumstances, official and cultural forms of reckoning combine in Brazil to produce what Atencio calls cycles of cultural memory. Novel meanings of the past are forged, and new cultural works are inspired, thus creating the possibility for further turns in the cycle.
            The first book to analyze Brazil’s reckoning with dictatorship through both institutional and cultural means, Memory’s Turn is a rich, informative exploration of the interplay between these different modes of memory reconstruction.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Series: Critical Human Rights


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Title Page, Copyright Page, Dedication

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pp. vii-viii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xvi

The first book I ever read from cover to cover in Portuguese was Dias Gomes’s Campeões do mundo (World Champions), a play that premiered in 1980 using Brazil’s World Cup victory a decade earlier as the backdrop for dramatizing the resistance to the military dictatorship that governed the country for twenty-one years. ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xvii-xviii

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Introduction: The Turn to Memory in Brazilian Culture and Politics

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pp. 3-27

In late 2011, Brasília—the modernist capital of Brazil, symbolizing the country’s aspirations for a bright future—turned its sights on the nation’s dark past of military dictatorship. On November 18, President Dilma Rousseff signed a law creating the National Truth Commission (Comissão Nacional da Verdade, CNV) in a historic ceremony at the Planalto Palace. ...

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1. Testimonies and the Amnesty Law

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pp. 28-58

Brazil’s first cycle of cultural memory took place in conjunction with the 1979 Amnesty Law. At the time, former guerrillas began publishing their testimonies in the form of books, some of which became best sellers and won prestigious prizes. ...

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2. A Prime-Time Miniseries and Impeachment

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pp. 59-81

As the Brazilian military dictatorship recedes further into the past, stories about it have increasingly become fodder for “must-see TV,” especially televised dramas.1 Telenovelas—or novelas, as they are commonly called—are a national pastime in Brazil, with viewership cutting across demographic categories of gender, class, race, and age. ...

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3. Literary and Official Truth-Telling

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pp. 82-98

In 1969 a thirty-one-year-old railway worker named Wlademiro Jorge Filho vanished at the height of the authoritarian repression. More than twenty-five years later, when Brazil passed the Law of the Disappeared instituting a reparations commission, Jorge Filho’s wife and son, Ueliton, duly filed a claim. ...

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4. From Torture Center to Stage and Site of Memory

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pp. 99-121

It is Saturday, July 20, 2002, and I find myself peering inside one of the prison cells in the former station house of the São Paulo political police, known by its acronym, DOPS.1 The cell is part of a small public memorial that opened a few weeks earlier, one of the first state-sponsored sites of memory in the entire country. ...

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Conclusion: Memory's Turns and Returns

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pp. 122-130

Nearly two decades after Fernando Gabeira published his best-selling testimony of the armed struggle, helping to set off a cycle of cultural memory, O que é isso, companheiro? (What’s Going On Here, Comrade?) inspired a film adaptation directed by Bruno Barreto. ...


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pp. 131-150


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pp. 151-162


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pp. 163-170

Critical Human Rights

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E-ISBN-13: 9780299297237
E-ISBN-10: 0299297233
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299297244
Print-ISBN-10: 0299297241

Page Count: 144
Illustrations: 9 b/w photos
Publication Year: 2014

Series Title: Critical Human Rights
Series Editor Byline: Steve J. Stern and Scott Straus, Series Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 882260995
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Memory’s Turn

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Dictatorship -- Brazil -- History -- 20th century.
  • Collective memory -- Brazil.
  • Collective memory and literature -- Brazil.
  • Human rights -- Brazil -- History -- 20th century.
  • Brazil -- History -- 1964-1985.
  • Brazil -- History -- 1985-2002.
  • Brazil -- History -- 2003-.
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