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Category Archive for 'Brazil'

One of the legends of World War I, Mata Hari has been, for over a hundred years, a symbol of mystery, excitement, and danger. Her exotic life and her eventual fate – an early morning execution by a firing squad of French soldiers on October 15, 1917 – has always felt somehow “deserved” by a woman who so craved attention that she publicly flouted every norm of society in order to develop a reputation as an erotic dancer and lover, and who was finally declared a spy by the French government. Fearless in her private life and pragmatic enough to realize, as she was approaching age forty, that she was not as supple – or as slim – as she once had been, she eventually accepted a six month contract to perform in Berlin in 1916, seeing this change of location as an opportunity for new rewards and wider opportunities. The big question raised by this novel is whether her various liaisons in Germany and France provided her with opportunities to share real secrets or whether she was merely a scapegoat, conveying the society gossip of the day, as she has claimed. When she left Germany precipitously in an attempt to return to Paris in 1917, the French declared her a German spy trying to re-enter. Whether this is true has never been fully answered, though this author has some suggestions.

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“I often dreamed of the moment of [my classmate’s] fall, a silence that lasted a second, possibly two, a room full of sixty people and no one making a sound as if everyone were waiting for my classmate to cry out or even just grunt, but he lay on the ground with his eyes closed until someone told everyone else to move away because he might be injured, a scene that stayed with me until he came back to school and crept along the corridors, wearing his orthopedic corset underneath his uniform…”—a schoolboy speaker in Porto Alegre, Brazil.

Prize winner. At age thirteen, a boy in Brazil participates in a prank involving another boy who is seriously hurt and forced to miss school for months. This becomes a major moment in his life, since he recognizes that he was wrong to participate in bullying the only non-Jewish boy in his class. His grandfather was an Auschwitz survivor who never communicated with his wife or son. His father is not a communicator, either. Here all three males come to new understandings and take actions in novel that is human, not epic. Finely organized, beautifully conversational, and insightful. A short novel with big themes that feels more like a memoir than fiction. Outstanding. Ideal for book club discussion.

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A middle-aged author who climbs a tree with her suitcase and then stays there is not a typical protagonist, nor is she even typical of the people we come to know within this novel as it develops. Beatriz Yagoda, sitting in her tree in the south of Rio, is a successful, middle-aged novelist of “peculiar” stories, and she does not sit in the tree for very long. That night she disappears, and five days after that, her translator, Emma Neufeld, living in Pittsburgh, receives an e-mail from a stranger asking if she is aware that the woman for whom she has translated two novels is now missing in Brazil. What evolves, while technically a mystery story, has elements of many different genres, as is befitting a novel about writing. Here author Idra Novey asks how much from an author’s real life migrates onto the printed page; about what, if anything, a careful reader may learn about an author’s inner life and thoughts from studying what s/he says in a novel; and about how much a translator can truly reflect an author’s inner essence. Within this debut novel, author Idra Novey, who is also a translator of novels in Portuguese and Spanish, also brings the whole question of a translator’s role to the forefront. Novey keeps the novel from becoming top-heavy with “philosophizing” by including elements of humor, violence, mystery, and the silliness of newspaper gossip columns, and when another young writer climbs into a banyan tree in the Jardim de Ala, and is later found dead and castrated, the newspaper offers only this advice: “All you other authors out there in Rio, please, please stay out of the trees!”

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Though many other writers have written novels about various coups in South America, this story is unusual in that its focus is squarely on the foreign service and the role of its representatives. Not a single scene here reflects the tortures, the murders, or the disappearances which are so traumatizing, and none of the major military leaders responsible for these actions are featured here. This approach works well for people in Brazil, Uruguay, Chile (and eventually Argentina), who are well familiar with the events which have often dramatically affected their own lives, though much of the action in this book will be new to many American readers. The movement back and forth in time over the eventual course of over forty years and several countries is sometimes challenging, and the mysterious Max, a lone wolf, is not someone with whom the reader will identify. Ultimately, the author raises philosophical questions: “In the space of a generation, thousands of people…had been imprisoned, tortured, and killed in the name of priorities long since forgotten. Who would answer…[who] would face a camera to publicly lament what had happened, as Robert McNamara had with respect to the horrors caused by the Vietnam War? What had occurred four decades earlier…remained suspended in time…on a planet deprived of memory.” The author hopes to correct that.

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In this loving, and even exhilarating, memoir of his son Tito’s life, Brazilian author Diogo Mainardi introduces the reader to Tito from the moment of his birth in Venice, a birth bungled beyond belief by the doctor who delivered him. Mainardi and his wife Anna had been living in Venice, and, under the spell of this magical city and, especially, of the beautiful Scuola Grande di San Marco, designed by Pietro Lombardo in 1489 and converted into a hospital in 1808, Mainardi wanted his son’s birth to be in this special building, which Ezra Pound celebrated in one of his cantos for its perfect beauty. As Mainardi and Anna make their way on foot through the piazza on their way to Lombardo’s Scuola Grande di San Marco for the birth, they pass Andrea del Verrochio’s statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni, thought by many to be the “most glorious equestrian statue in the world.” Mainardi, overcome at this moment, is “in the grip of the same stupid aestheticism as Ezra Pound…I could only associate the perfect art of Pietro Lombardo [and Andrea del Verrochio] with an equally perfect birth. Because [such] Good, would be incapable of creating Evil…[or] a bungled birth.” He was wrong.

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