Brazil’s leading literary theorist discusses the novel whose formal innovations trace the emergence of the ganglands of the neo-favela in Rio de Janeiro today—a world away from the now etiolated recipes of magical realism.
CITY OF GOD
The ‘City of God’—there is no irony in the name—is a slum of some 200,000 inhabitants on the western edge of Rio de Janeiro. It is famous for the unending shoot-outs there between drug gangs and police—an uncontrollable, escalating war, emblematic in various ways of wider social developments in Brazil. Five years ago, a remarkable novel depicting the life of the place appeared. Its author, Paulo Lins, was born in 1958 in Estácio, a black district of Rio, close to the docks; after the disastrous floods of 1966 he was rehoused with his family in the City of God. This development scheme—product of bungled planning by Carlos Lacerda, the notoriously reactionary governor of the times—was still quite new. Lins went to school there, and carried on living in the favela while he studied at the university. He knew the local gangsters—delinquents he had grown up with; and they came to trust him as someone who could mediate with the community on their behalf.
’My institution subscribes to NLR, why can't I access this article?’
By the same author:
Brazil’s foremost literary critic engages with the autobiography of Caetano Veloso, its best-known musician. The dense weave of relations between 60s counter-culture and left movements, and its rending by years of dictatorship and capitalist triumph.
Brecht's Relevance: Highs and Lows
In what ways does Brecht’s drama—and the world-transforming impulse behind his strategies of defamiliarization—speak to times and places other than his own? Ups and downs of his resonance in Brazil and beyond, shadowing the movements of history’s leading edge.
Roberto Schwarz discusses the cultural-political import of rival interpretations of Machado de Assis, within the critical space of world literature. Local versus international, specific versus universal, entangled within the ironies and dizzying narrative disjunctures of a Brazilian master.
A Brazilian Breakthrough
What made the greatest Brazilian novel of the nineteenth century, Machado de Assis’s Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas, a masterpiece of world literature? The strange fate of realism in an ex-colonial society, in which liberalism was a ruling ideology, modernity a universal ideal, and slavery still an everyday fact of life.
Preface with Questions
Portrait of one of Latin America’s most original sociologists, and the zoography of his native habitat. The calm iconoclasm of Francisco de Oliveira’s thought under military dictators and workers’ president alike.
In the Land of Elefante
Brazil’s most original poet in the prism of its foremost critic. How Francisco Alvim’s lyricism unlocks the social through the colloquial, in tiny openings onto a vast space of national ambiguities and complicities.
Brazilian Culture: Nationalism by Elimination