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  • The Second Generation of Autobiographical Narratives of DictatorshipThe Year in Brazil
  • Sergio da Silva Barcellos (bio)

In the fifteenth year of military dictatorship in Brazil, in 1979, the creation of an amnesty law allowed for the return of political exiles. With them came their stories of conflict, torture, and displacement. In the first half of the 1980s, autobiographical accounts about the repressive regime began flooding bookshelves with titles written by journalists, intellectuals, and artists who suffered at the hands of the repression. However, much had yet to be discussed and exposed. In Brazil, there was not an effort toward justice through initiatives such as South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. It was not until 2012, with the establishment of the Comissão Nacional da Verdade that the second generation of autobiographical narratives of the period surfaced. Stories and memories of children whose parents were subjugated by military repression contributed a new facet of this dark chapter of national history.

Until 1978 real information about the repressive regime was scarce and only with the Abertura, which means "opening" or "distension," that resulted from the revoking of the AI-5 (Institutional Act number 5, of December 13, 1968) did Brazilians start reading and learning about stories of former political prisoners and exiles. Several autobiographical narratives of journalists, writers, sociologists, and left-wing politicians, among others, represented the first contact with recent national history for an entire generation. It was known as the boom of memoirs and testimonies of the military dictatorship era. The first book of the trilogy written by Fernando Gabeira, a former guerrilla member, O Que É Isso, Companheiro?,1 published in 1979, figured in the bestseller lists for three years. Alfredo Sirkis's Os Carbonários received the same wide acceptance. Other titles are worth mentioning, such as Memórias: [End Page 539] Parte I by Gregório Bezerra, Querida família by Flávia Schilling, and Batismo de sangue: Os dominicanos e a morte de Carlos Marighella by Frei Beto. Some of these narratives became mandatory reading for those who wanted to learn about the failed revolution and unfortunate backlashes, such as torture and exile. Most of these authors attempted to offer a passionate autobiographical account while presenting a critical retrospective view on their experiences. Their projects, however, lacked a more dialectic approach. In spite of the many graphic descriptions of the physical and psychological torture inflicted on political prisoners, a cross-checking of their versions of these accounts did not happen then, nor has one happened today. When the amnesty law for political prisoners passed, it pardoned both guerrilla members and military torturers. The archives of the dictatorship were sealed and kept under confidentiality until recently when two important steps were taken toward revisiting the recent past. The first one was the law number 12,527 of 2011, known as Lei de Acesso à Informação, granting relatively unrestricted access to all public information under government care (Presidência da República). Next, May 16, 2011, saw the establishment of the Comissão Nacional da Verdade, whose goals were to investigate and clarify all human rights violations that occurred between 1964 and 1988.

The access to documents pertaining to this period revealed a chasm between the different ways lives had been compromised by political and ideological conflicts. On one side, young men and women offered their lives to rebel against dictatorship by either verbalizing their opinion or by bearing arms and confronting the regime. On the other were the memories of innocent children dragged involuntarily into a conflict they did not understand and whose effects drastically marked their lives.

a cause greater than one's own life

In the documentary No Es Hora de Llorar, Roque Aparecido da Silva, a metal worker and college student, narrates how, during the sessions of torture, he thought about defying the torturers to incite them to beat him to death. Death meant not only the end of pain but also a way to avoid disclosure of the whereabouts of his fellow guerillas. However, after a while, he explains that:

Eu não posso dispor da vida como eu bem entendo. Então, eu percebi que eu não podia provocar para...


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pp. 539-545
Launched on MUSE
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