Granta 121 — The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists

I returned from Brazil a little over twelve years ago. I lived up north in the cities on the Amazon, learned the language (which is gorgeous), and loved the climate, the people, and the culture, obviously so different from the western United States where I’d grown up. When I returned I wanted to start reading Brazilian literature. I didn’t really succeed, in part because I went other directions but also in part because Brazilian literature is not that common here in the United States and I had no idea where to start if I were to just pick up some books in portuguese. I’m hoping this new issue of Granta will open a few doors and begin to change that.

Review copy courtesy of Granta and Grove Press.

Brazil is a vast country; in the words of Jorge Amado, it is not a country but a continent. I lived most of the time in the hot, flat north: in the coastal city of Belém, where many people lived in small mud huts with roads that are nothing more than planks suspended five feet above the jungle swamp; deeper in the Amazon in Santarém, where the blue Tapajós and brown Amazon rivers meet but do not mix; in São Luís, an island city that looked slightly European and had wonderful beaches and, thankfully, a breeze. I also spent time in the very different south, in the giant city of São Paulo and the wonderfully chilly (at that time of year) beautiful region surrounding Foz do Iguaçu. Each place was extremely different from the last. I’ve never been able to put into words a lot of what I felt and experienced in Brazil, which had a strange and often unsettling mixture of beauty and violence, of spiritual and physical ecstasy. I’m excited to reenter, in some way, that world and many other worlds I didn’t see by way of its young writers.

Before skimming through the table of contents, I hadn’t heard of a single one of these authors, which isn’t surprising since most have not been translated into English before. They are young, the oldest born in 1973 and the youngest as recently as 1991, putting them almost a generation past some of the recent turbulence in Brazil and squarely in the generation that is experiencing its rise as an economic and cultural power in the world. I’m a bit sad that none of them are from writers in the northern states where I lived (though two come close, growing up in Paraíba and Bahia); nearly all come to us by way of São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and Rio Grande do Sul. It’s not surprising, but it means there is much much more that is completely untapped. That said, they come from a wide variety of backgrounds; there are some first generation Brazilians and several second generation Brazilians whose parents immigrated to Brazil to escape dictatorships from various other regions of the world.

As I recently did with Alice Munro’s Dear Life, I’m going to make this an anchor post as I go through these stories one by one. As I post reviews, I will update the list of stories below with links. In the end, further below, I will post my thoughts on the issue as a whole.

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