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Circling the South Atlantic: Revolution in J. E. Agualusa’s The Year that Zumbi Took Rio


What, and how, can “revolution” mean in the Global South in the decades after the end of the Cold War? Lusophone author José Eduardo Agualusa’s 2002 novel The Year that Zumbi Took Rio stages an imagined violent revolution in the marginalized, racialized communities of Rio de Janeiro through the collaboration of Angolan and Brazilian subjects multiply displaced by war, racism and other forms of social violence. The novel’s narrative frame revolves around retelling the story of the messianic figure of Zumbi dos Palmares, the seventeenth-century maroon king of the city of Palmares, located in the Brazilian hinterland, who leads the city’s final failed uprising against Portuguese and Dutch colonialists. In the Zumbi mythology, the Afro-Brazilian figure’s eventual return will initiate a new revolutionary cycle, vindicating the community’s fall. This article calls upon Boaventura de Sousa Santos’s notion of “epistemologies of the South,” a proposal to outline the possibilities of “intercultural translation”; such a project operates in the cracks of hierarchical boundaries that restrict the circulation of knowledge reinforced through organizing concepts such as nationalism, colonialism and racism. This essay, accordingly, traces the possibilities offered by both geographical and temporal displacement in Agualusa’s novel as offering a model for the ways in which these “epistemologies of the South” might map productive modes of South-South exchange.

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