Precisely in the year that marks two centuries of its independence, Brazil once again sees the landing of a caravan of Portuguese in its lands. But this time it’s by invitation.
Portugal is the great honoree of the São Paulo Book Biennial, where a pavilion with more than 60 activities over nine days seeks to refine ties between the two countries and reflect on the past and future of a relationship founded on colonialism.
Saramago’s entourage brings 21 writers, from famous Portuguese people such as Valter Hugo Mãe and Ricardo Araújo Pereira, columnist for this newspaper, to Portuguese-speakers from other corners —such as the Mozambican Paulina Chiziane, still in the wake of Camões, the Timorese Luís Cardoso, winner of an unprecedented Oceans award, and the Angolan Kalaf Epalanga, Flip’s success in 2019.
The event crowns a recent strengthening of the literary dialogue between the two countries. As Matilde Campilho, another Portuguese woman who will attend the event, says, “for many years we didn’t know each other as well as we could, literarily speaking”, but “in recent times this has been increasingly changing”.
The writer launches her first prose work, “Flecha”, for the publisher 34, and remembers Macondo as another house that pays fine attention to its contemporaries — just as the Portuguese Douda Correria does with young Brazilians such as Adelaide Ivánova, Ana Martins Marques and Angélica Freitas. “And we’re just poets.”
The publishing market here has also planted flags in the land of Camões —from the independent Nós to the giant Companhia das Letras— and, in the opposite direction, the Portuguese Tinta-da-China has just been reborn in Brazil by joining the Quatro Cinco Um and the renowned Assírio e Alvim opened its own office in São Paulo.
“It was a relationship that already existed”, says the writer Thales Guaracy, who now heads the Brazilian branch of the publishing house. “The frequency of Assírio’s buyers was Lisbon, in second place, São Paulo, and in third, Rio de Janeiro. Producing directly in Brazil will make everything cheaper.”
Assírio e Alvim is a house with a 50-year-old tradition, responsible for establishing the work of Fernando Pessoa as we know it today. Ten years ago, its operation was bought by Porto, Portugal’s largest publishing house, and a 40% growth last year was the spark that was needed to finally launch the Brazilian adventure.
“Portugal is a small country that becomes big through culture”, says Guaracy. “The Portuguese poet is an instrument of national identity, while here in Brazil we treat this heritage with disregard.”
A more skeptical opinion appears in the speech of the Portuguese Dulce Maria Cardoso, author of a brand published by Tinta-da-China and by However, who laughs when the reporter comments that Portugal is a country with a good reserve of self-esteem regarding its own culture.
“Anything fleeting makes us think we are the best or the worst in the world”, jokes the writer.
The argument reflects a scathing chronicler from her country, also one of its most admired authors. “Eliete”, which Cardoso launches during the Bienal, was highlighted in the Oceanos award for narrating the life of a lonely middle-aged woman who mirrors the generation that was born after the Carnation Revolution.
In a climactic scene of the novel, the entire city around the protagonist goes into catharsis with the triumph of the Portuguese team in the European Championship, and Cardoso takes the opportunity to paint a brief and sophisticated panorama of such national pride.
What was heard in the air, she writes, was “the cry that drove spears into Africa and nails into the barrels of machine guns, that killed kings and dictators, that expelled Celts, Visigoths, Romans and Spaniards, that lined churches with gold from Brazil, who burned heretics, who doubled the Cape of Good Hope, who trafficked slaves, who signed Tordesilhas, the cry of the children of Portugal’s splendour”.
Cardoso says he has the impression that few Brazilian writers come to his country, and they sell even fewer, which he regrets — for believing, with the forgiveness of his compatriots, that Brazilian literature is usually more open to risks.
“It’s not that there is anything in Portugal against Brazilian literature, you can be sure, what there is is the absence of effective cultural policies. We cannot expect these things to happen by chance. a policy that makes us work together.”
It is important to note that the Portuguese president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, will be at the opening ceremony of the Bienal do Livro this Saturday. The Jair Bolsonaro government was also invited, but no one confirmed their presence.
In the absence of institutions, people act. Bookseller Rui Campos, owner of Travessa, plays the role of informal diplomat between the two cultures. Three years ago, he opened a branch in Lisbon that became a tourist spot for authors and readers from both countries.
“The Portuguese publishing market is very solid, but the bookstore market was weak, dominated by stores linked to chains and publishers”, he says. “Nothing with the authenticity of a Martins Fontes, an Argumento, which made Travessa a breath of renewal.”
According to Campos, the promising trends in Brazilian literature today —remember that “Torto Arado” was edited and awarded in Portugal before in Brazil — have been reflected in an increase in demand for our classic and contemporary authors.
The reading of Portuguese-speaking authors in Brazil, for the veteran bookseller, was boosted by the emergence of Flip, which introduced the public to the charisma of writers based in Portugal such as José Eduardo Agualusa and Valter Hugo Mãe.
It was also in Paraty, on the coast of Rio de Janeiro, that Matilde Campilho made a splash with “Jóquei”, the best-selling book of that 2015 edition, with her poems affectionately nicknamed “luso-cariocas”.
It was a work based “on the connections between Rio and Lisbon”, she recalls, who had it in her heart to play with “the two accents of a single language”. Distracted and unintentionally, perhaps Campilho alone sums up the motto of an entire Bienal.