The harsh daily life of Brazil has increasingly inspired the work of Chico Buarque, as the book proves Years of Lead and Other Tales, released by Companhia das Letras on the 22nd. They are short narratives, in which the sharpness of observation turns any fact considered banal into an ironic and reflective act on how far human squalor (especially Brazilian ones) can reach.
Just reading the text opens the volume, My uncle, which makes immediate reference to the classic and loving comedy by Jaques Tatit, but which, at the end of the narrative, makes it closer to another film, the uncomfortable Ugly, Dirty and Evil, by Ettore Scola. After all, this uncle, a great guy and owner of inexplicable power, doesn’t just take his niece for a walk – it’s not here to reveal more details. What is certain is that the behavior of other characters proves to be even more unbearable, as shown by the girl’s mother, who is the man’s sister and whose concern reveals society’s moral standard, measured in levels that are increasingly lower.
It is not possible to smile with such a tale, unlike the following one, The passport, in which a distinguished figure appears again, “the great artist”, author of justifiable acts from a personal point of view, but condemnable for those who live in society. Again, Chico reveals how the split in character has become commonplace, not an exception. Which makes the whole situation experienced during a plane trip something laughable.
Already in The Cousins of Fields, the reader is faced with militias and a police that sins by violence, contributing to heat up the racial issue.
But it would be unfair to limit Years of Lead to a handful of embittered narratives. The counterpoint is, for example, in the beautiful For Clarice Lispector, With Candura, in which the author tells the story of an aspiring young poet who, one day, is invited to the house of his favorite writer. So far, fiction coincides with reality, as the chico he even visited the writer, who died in 1977. The current situation soon imposes itself, however, when the young author becomes obsessed with Clarice, to the point of publishing texts on the internet as if they were her own. chico seems to say that dreams can indeed be followed by nightmares.
“The rather tragic asymmetry of the encounter and the catalyzing of delirium show the risks involved in letting oneself be seduced by an image”, observes the writer Alejandro Chacoff, in a criticism included in the promotional material. “A question that both the short story and the book raise is what happens when an entire country – half in one direction, half in the other – lets itself be carried away by this kind of seduction.”
Even in the most sublime moments, Chico Buarque he doesn’t let his reader forget the society that surrounds him, as he had already done in the track Caravanas, from the album of the same name, released in 2017, and whose lyrics said: “You have to hit, you have to kill, the screaming gets thicker. Daughter of fear, anger is the mother of cowardice”. It was the vision of how a Carioca bourgeois saw the “caravans”, that is, the buses that bring residents from the hills and outskirts of Rio to the beaches of the south zone, such as Copacabana and Leblon. Also in the tales of Years of Lead, Chico Buarque lets this more confrontational persona reveal her dissatisfaction, bringing lyricism to girders and harmony to rusty pipes.
“In a literary environment full of thunderous apocalypses, Buarque evokes the dark present with some subtle shifts, following the maxim of the great storytellers: that of extracting the maximum effect with the minimum movement”, adds Chacoff.
Years of Lead and Other Tales
Author: Chico Buarque
Publisher: Companhia das Letras (168 pages, R$59.90 e-book R$29.90)