The world's first story

Teodoro Carvalho Dias (Journal of Reviews)
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By DANIEL BRAZIL*

Commentary on the book by Alberto Mussa, the third published volume of a project of five crime novels telling the story of Rio de Janeiro “through its crimes”

If we consider that the concept of history is based on the existence of people, in biblical terms the first history of the world involved sexual desire and murder. Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel symbolize this bloody beginning, from which we were never redeemed.

The carioca writer Alberto Mussa retells his “first story” placing it in Rio de Janeiro. More precisely in 1567, just over two years after the construction of the fort on Morro do Castelo, where it all began.

The village had about 400 inhabitants, including Portuguese, Vincentians, Mamluks, Indians and a few Europeans of different origins. And then the first crime was recorded, the murder of locksmith Francisco da Costa, under mysterious circumstances. The fact that his wife, Jerônima Rodrigues, is an attractive Mameluka, in a land where many more men than women live, gives the fact a passionate edge, with suspicions of adultery. Alberto Mussa starts from a historical document, from a real fact, reported in “Conquistadores e povoadores do Rio de Janeiro”, by Elysio Belchior, and promotes an admirable mixture of fiction and reality.

So we have a police plot. One dead, several suspects, one possible cause. But the records are incomplete and obscure, and the trial sounds rushed, as even among the judges there are suspects. The only thing is that there is no detective, or rather, it is Mussa who takes on the role, asking readers to “share with me the fascinating task of reproducing the investigation, examining the process data, as well as other documents that illuminate the character of the characters involved. .”

The author does not refer to the biblical background, but presents us, in delightful digressions, historical, cultural and anthropological aspects of Guanabara in the early days. Indigenous mythology, one of Mussa's passions, is presented at various times, as well as an accurate description of the habits and customs of the time.

All these seasonings add even more flavor to the police plot. According to the records, the Mameluco Simão Berquó was found guilty and sentenced to hang. Mussa dedicates a chapter to each of the suspects, raising hypotheses: two noblemen-gentlemen, the treasurer of the council, the butler of the confraternity of São Sebastião, an exiled Jew, a surgeon-apothecary, a jailer, a pirate-cartographer. Some women give testimonials about the beautiful and mysterious Jeronima, some supportive, others envious.

Although the solution proposed by the writer-detective is surprisingly unusual, the entire construction of the plot ingeniously follows the conventions of the genre, planting suspicions in the reader's head and leading him to elaborate conjectures and deductions. Mussa enriches the narrative with quotes from the first traveler-narrators, etymological interpretations, parallels with modern detective authors, cinema – he is writing in the XNUMXst century, not the XNUMXth, remember! –, culminating in an elusive approximation of Dante's Comedy.

The first story of the world is the third published volume of an ambitious project, a series of five crime novels telling the story of Rio de Janeiro “through its crimes”, one for each century. (the previous ones are O Trono da Rainha Ginga, 2017th century, and O Senhor do Lado Esquerdo, 2018th century). The fourth volume, The Human Hypothesis, was released in XNUMX, and takes place in the XNUMXth century, addressing a crime involving slaves and African mythology. The cycle is completed with The Elementary Library (Século XVIII), released in XNUMX, where a murder in Largo da Carioca compromises gypsies and Franciscan friars, with a narrative led by women.

Alberto Mussa, recognized with several literary prizes, is certainly one of the most original Brazilian writers, and in this cycle he exercises his best qualities. He dialogues with the reader, suggests clues, offers alternatives, cites historical sources, mixing erudition with high-level entertainment.

O Mythical Compendium of Rio de Janeiro can be read in any order independently. It is not just a series of crime novels, but a fascinating dive into the history of the city that most represents the country, with all its contradictions, beauties, ugliness, prejudices, disputes and passions.

*Daniel Brazil is a writer, author of the novel suit of kings (Penalux), screenwriter and TV director, music and literary critic.

REFERENCES

Mythical Compendium of Rio de Janeiro Box Paperback – Alberto Mussa – July 2023 (https://amzn.to/3P1VMYC).

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