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A BRAZILIAN'S APPRECIATION OF BRAZIL

 

 

 

A BRAZILIAN EPIC

by

Professor Wilson Martins

Jornal do Brasil

 

"Uys has accomplished what no Brazilian author from José de Alencar to Jorge Amado was able to do. He is the first to write our national epic in all its decisive episodes, from the indigenous civilization and the El Dorado myth, everything converging like the segments of a rose window to that reborn and metamorphosed myth that is Brasilia.

 

He is the first outsider to see us with total honesty and sympathy and full empathy with the decisive moments in our history and their spiritual meaning. Descriptions like those of the war with Paraguay are unsurpassed in our literature and evoke the great passages of War and Peace."

 

Besides a major novel on Canudos penned not by a Brazilian but a Peruvian( Mario Vargas Llosa),a South African writer has now written a major novel on our national epic, an extraordinary history that begins with our indigenous tribes in the tropical forest, unfolds across the centuries with generations of Cavalcantis and Silvas symbolizing the building of Brazil, and leads up to a metaphorical finale with Brasília, a transfiguration of the mythical El Dorado sought for five centuries and transformed into an urban reality - a psychological, social and political reality.
 
From José de Alencar to João Ubaldo Ribeiro, as well as Bernardo Guimarães, Jorge Amado, Haroldo Maranhão and Herberto Sales, all attempted this ambitious project, only fragmentarily accomplished among them. The reasons why aren't important here: despite several attempts the project was never realized in its entirety, its total congeniality with the "Brazilian thing." The questions this raises can be answered, in each case, with a sheaf of responses, both individual and applicable to all.
 
The mysterious and complex circumstances that allowed a foreigner to overcome obstacles which, given the vastness of the subject, we've barely managed to confront (and frequently we did it badly), are only explained by the tautology that is, after all, at the center of these questions: Uys is the first to have, in the necessary proportions, the talent required for the task; the first one who could see us from the "outside" with the sympathetic integration (in the etymological sense of the word) that was required for the work; he was the first one to understand Brazil as an imaginary creation, coherent in its apparent incoherencies, organic in its historic development, complimentary in its contradictions and antagonisms, unitary in its differences and obscurely answering to the famous "will of being a nation" that Julien Benda identified as the motivating force in the history of his own country.
 
The inevitable orthographic errors aside (Floriano Peixote, Tobojara) and linguistic slip (limpa sangue; the answers in sim;) one or another historical inaccuracy like saying Castro Alves was present in the abolitionist ceremony of Pernambuco in 1885 or designating Pedro II by the title of 'Perpetual Defender of Brasil,' a title that belonged to his father; taking Caipora as a feminine entity; or including José do Patricinio among personalities who on November 15, 1889 came in haste to the house of Deodoro da Fonseca - these are insignificant inaccuracies in this novel of one thousand pages and, of course, irrelevant to the American readers for whom the novel was written. And for the Brazilians, too, for after all, the novelist has a right to the poetical liberties of his profession.
 
What we have in front of us is the Brazilian national epic in all its decisive episodes - the indigenous civilization and the El Dorado myth that they themselves created and supported, passing it on to the hallucinated imaginations of the conqueror; the discovery and domination of the North-East; the Bandeiras and geographical expansion; the gold rush and nationalist feeling present, not only in the struggle against the Dutch but also the Inconfidência Mineira; the Royal Family's arrival and the Independence; the Second Reign and the war with Paraguay; the Abolition and the Republic - everything converging like the segments of a rose window in that reborn and metamorphosized   myth that is Brasília, symbol of the proclaimed territorial integrity and, not without reason, with the expeditions that expanded to the south and to the west on the pretext of capturing Indians and searching for the "Golden Fleece."
 
In the introduction, the editors state this book is destined for a place at the side of the gigantic bestsellers of James Michener and James Clavell - of this we've no doubt, nor is it difficult to imagine it will inspire a film or TV series, that's a certainty. The only reservation from a strictly literary point of view is the technique or fiction the author uses here or there, with conventional mass-market processes, such with melodramatic episodes solved in the last minute or some simplification in characterization.
 
All of this is dispelled in the vigorous narrative art and the descriptive force of an author completely at home with the immense historical mural he has before him. Descriptions like those of the war with Paraguay, particularly the battle of Tuiuti (a scene also depicted by João Ubaldo Ribeiro in one of the most important sections of his novel) do not find in our literature any rival capable of surpassing them, and they evoke the great passages of War and Peace rather than best-sellers of current extraction.
 
With these episodes and others from 1491 onward, the author shows a total empathy with the decisive moments in our history and their spiritual meaning: Indians, Portuguese, Mamelucos, Pernambucanos, Paulistas identify themselves through the centuries, not merely as historical figures but with the psychology and sentiment of the Brazilian. As one of the characters states, already in the eighteenth century, the bandeirantes were inspired to search for mines for the greater glory and richness of the king, and the Pernambucanos were at the same time consolidating the economic and political structure, "but when we think in the present, we just see Brazil."
 

 

This represents a dialectical process even more complex than the ingenious rebuilding of our history - and, after all, inevitable: "Where were they -" meditates one of the characters on the inaugural night of Brasília,"-the Amador Flôres da Silvas and the Benedito Buenos, where were all those who in the south and in the north, in the extreme west or in the impenetrable forests, on Monte Tabocos or in the colonial mills - where were all who had opened the way for this conquest? Brasilia seemed to be, finally, the El Dorado they had searched for in vain, thus coming full circle from the inflamed imaginations of the first conquerors when they beheld the "sun's drops" worn by the natives in their primitive collars.

 

 

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