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The Americas 58.3 (2002) 471-472

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Culture Wars In Brazil: The First Vargas Regime, 1930-1945. By Daryle Williams. Durham: Duke University Press, 2001. Pp. xxii, 346. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $59.95 cloth; $19.95 paper.

This excellent monograph by Daryle Williams is part of the growing historical effort to probe beneath the surface of the long Vargas presidency from 1930 to 1945. Readers should be warned that, despite the book's title, the author is not seeking to impose on Brazil the U.S. model of the American Enterprise Institute conservative ideologies versus the typical Ivy League liberal. Rather, his goal is to document the federal government's institutionalization of culture, especially during the Estado Novo dictatorship (1937-1945). Despite the Vargas government's steady pressure to co-opt all the centers of culture (aided by censorship during the dictatorship), there were spontaneous cultural expressions that overshadowed the government-controlled realm. The case of Carmen Miranda, whose tragic career continued into the post 1945 era and which speaks volumes about Brazil's uncertain self-image, is a case in point.

One of the tensions evident throughout the book is generated by the author's implicit attempt to contain fifteen years of Brazil's cultural history within the confines of the government structure. Fortunately, the author is aware of this problem and wisely allows himself comments on wider topics.

Williams discovers a bevy of interesting points. One is that the Vargas government did not want to create an official art, à la the technique of the European totalitarian regimes. Indeed, there was little attention in Brazil to world trends, especially fascism in Europe. In this respect Brazil revealed itself to be remarkably isolated, despite the British and American fear that Axis powers were penetrating Brazil, a country whose shoreline held great strategic significance in World War II. As could be expected, the role and nature of samba aroused controversy, pitting the municipal and federal authorities against the sambistas, who eventually lost control over their own art form. Finally, Williams furnishes an invaluable reference work on the government cultural initiatives, such as historic preservation, strengthening of museum collections and publication of new journals in political theory. He also clearly maps the bureaucratic struggles that accompanied these initiatives. [End Page 471]

One finishes Williams's well-written book with the conclusion that the Vargas regime invested heavily in cultural incentives, although it was perhaps not as all-embracing as we thought. Nonetheless, Brazil is still largely living off this cultural legacy. The return of democracy, ironically enough, has not brought a cultural renaissance equal to that of the turbulent pre-authoritarian and authoritarian years of Getulio Vargas.

Thomas Skidmore
Brown University
Providence, Rhode Island



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