- The Afro-Brazilian Mind: Contemporary Afro-Brazilian Literary and Cultural Criticism, and: Ossobó: Essays on the Literature of São Tomé and Príncipe
Donald Burness’s Ossobó: Essays on the Literature of São Tomé and Príncipe is an invaluable addition in English to the literary studies of an academically neglected region of Lusophone Africa. As well as three essays that deal with Fernando de Macedo’s literature of the Angolares, literary reactions to the infamous 1953 Massacre of Batepá, and literary responses to the Ossobó (the emerald cuckoo of the collection’s title), an extremely useful appendix includes a short anthology of poems and their translations into English by famous and less well-known writers from the islands: Alda Espírito Santo; Caetano da Costa Alegre; Carlos Espírito Santo; Fernando de Macedo; Francisco Stockler; Francisco Tenreiro; Frederico Gustavo dos Anjos; Herculano Levy; Marcelo de Veiga; and Maria Manuela Margarido.
Burness repeatedly situates his literary commentaries in the historical context of São Tomé e Príncipe, giving a solid account of the political and social [End Page 169] background that lead the authors and poets he considers to write the way they do. He is also very adept at contextualizing São Tomé e Príncipe within a larger African frame, bringing productive literary comparisons from Nigeria and South Africa among other places to bear in his interpretation of the islands’ literature. A glossary at the end of the book, alongside careful explanations of the referents within the poetry he considers, will make this a key resource for any student or academic interested in São Tomé e Príncipe. The poetic translations extend its potential reach to those interested in African Cultural Studies or Comparative Literature.
While Burness’s work is original and opens the field up to a wider audience, occasionally he falls into a jarring essentialism, uncritically drawing on the discourse of “originality and authenticity” (17) and the “essence of the culture” (17). Also, strangely for someone who sets out to examine literature, he damns Sum Marky for his character of Aida in Crónica de uma Guerra Inventanda, claiming the author demeans Alda Espírito Santo, as if a literary portrayal were a precise biographical account. While Alda and Aida may have much in common, and the fictional Aida may be based on many aspects of Alda, it is odd to expect Aida to function as a direct representation denied any poetic license or creative interpretation. To answer Burness’s protesting question as to why Sum Marky does not refer to Alda “by her actual name” (48), we might challenge his assertion that “Alda is Aida” and remind Burness that literature is littered with characterizations not real life personalities. That having been said, Ossobó: Essays on the Literature of São Tomé and Príncipe is well worth the read (as, indeed, is Crónica de uma Guerra Inventanda).
A fear of essentialism loomed large when I first saw the title of The Afro-Brazilian Mind: Contemporary Afro-Brazilian Literary and Cultural Criticism. Would this be another rendition of a by-gone era’s obsession with the “spirit” of a people? Fortunately, my fears were not borne out in this very illuminating volume, which brings together an interesting collection of essays around the theme of Afro-Brazilian identities, and the difficulties associated with them. Indeed, Cheryl Sterling’s essay, “Blackness Re-Visited and Re-Visioned in the Works of the Black Arts Movement and Quilombhoje,” confronts the banal use of the accusation of essentialism, in a robust response to Paul Gilroy’s “nebulously defined, utopian, planetary humanism” (46). However, and to return to Gilroy (via Spivak), while it is important never to deny the political necessity of a kind of strategic essentialism when...