Ana Paula Maya

Guy Bourdin, Untitled, c. 1950


Maia's work establishes a contradictory contact with current trends in the representation of contemporary reality

Ana Paula Maia's writing is based on inconsistencies. Disparate components coexist naturally and closely in the environment created by the author's novelistic fiction: typically Brazilian names are alongside foreign names; elements that would locate the space of the narrative in Brazil are combined with elements that make it impossible to define it categorically; archaic objects are used to the same extent as modern objects; the theme of destruction and violence does not disturb the symmetrical order of the narratives, clearly composed of a beginning, middle and end; the characters believe in both the Christian religion and soul manifestations.

These are frictions that, combined with the narrative voice – elaborated in a third person who is not surprised by this unusual space-time and abject facts – cause discomfort, as the indices of reality that would guide the interpretation of the reading are confused.

Ana Paula Maia has already published a reasonable number of novels, highlighting Of cattle and men (2013) As on earth as beneath the earth (2017) and Bury your dead (2018). In addition to the aforementioned characteristics, his work recurrently reveals writing techniques, especially those derived from scripts, and some literary and mass culture references, without, however, seeking to be part of the tradition of national literature or contemporary trends.

In this sense, memory, family traumas, gender and formal fragmentation are not part of his fictional concerns. Although each work allows for an independent reading, Maia used the trilogy twice. Without being tied to a properly chronological sequence, the trajectory of certain characters – Edgar Wilson, Bronco Gil, Erasmo Wagner, Ernesto Wesley and Tomás – is taken up book by book, either due to a greater degree of protagonism or due to the absence of each one of them.

Although the narratives take place in different spaces – a pig slaughterhouse, the landfill of an unnamed city, a crematorium, a coal mine, a cattle slaughterhouse, a penal colony about to be deactivated and roads near which a quarry operates. –, they all share some recurring motifs: dryness (when there is water, it is contaminated, pooled or about to dry out), extreme temperatures (nature is merciless, whether cold or hot), isolated characters (they seem abandoned, as if they were survivors of a catastrophe), the blocked horizon (by mountains, walls, a closed or infinite sky that ends in nothingness) and the vagueness of space-time coordinates (if there are any, they are fictitious, as is the case of the Abalurdes region, in Char [2011], and the Vale dos Ruminantes, in Of cattle and men [2013]).

The thinning of the environment, which loses what is characteristic of it and is reduced to its scheme, corresponds to the thinning of the language, concise, tense and without stylistic resources. This stripping reveals things to us at their ultimate limit: the bones, the teeth, the leafless tree, the skeleton – images that attest to the lack of transcendence that governs this fictional universe. The bare things attest that, beyond what is visible, there is nothing, although the characters believe otherwise.

The first lines of As on earth as beneath the earth (2017) highlight some of these characteristics: “There was little left, whether men or animals. Hoes and sickles remain lying in the corners of the plantations parched by the lack of rain. A narrow, smelly stream provides water, but it visibly dwindles day after day, sucked away by the intense heat that evaporates it and leaves the air humid and heavy. There is still movement in the chicken coop and some grunting in the pigsty, which guarantees meat in the pot for the next few days; Furthermore, the scarcity is a concern.” (MAIA, 2017, p. 9-10)

The excerpt makes up a world in throes, forgotten and neglected. A world that gradually loses its contours. The threat of finitude that governs it is reflected in the syntactic structure privileged by the author's narrative voice: sentences organized in direct order, relatively short and with few subordinations, imposing pauses in the flow of reading until the dense silence that weighs on the characters.

The book begins by painting a picture of the end, which is one of the main reasons for Ana Paula Maia's writing. In case of As on earth as beneath the earthIn fact, the end is the premise of the narrative. In a penal colony that will soon be closed down, director Melquíades undertakes perverse hunts against inmates: he “slaughters men like someone slaughtering cattle” (MAIA, 2017, p. 70). The protagonist Bronco Gil, the son of a rape committed by a farmer against an Indian woman, directly opposes Melquíades.

In this story, there is also emphasis on the prison officer Taborda, who feels identified with the inmates, but behaves with the aggressiveness of Melquíades; Valdênio, an inmate who spent half his life in prison; Pablo, whose insidious behavior allows him to escape the colony; and Hector, the bailiff expected throughout the narrative and who appears only in the ninth chapter (the book is divided into twelve chapters). In the quoted excerpt, the narrative voice paints a scenario of depletion and penury, with remains, dryness, scarcity, absence of productive activity, silence and fear organizing it. A panorama of desertion is outlined, as the activities that gave it life and movement were abandoned a long time ago. Despite the themes – the end, the remains, death – the narrative voice remains balanced and symmetrical, not being itself, at first, a reflection of what it describes.

By placing the story in a penal colony, and not in a conventional penitentiary, the narrative voice immediately leads us to think of a connection with the novel in the penal colony (1998), by Franz Kafka. The narrative voice does this less to refer us to the Czech writer than to maintain the coherence of a poetic that does not want to be completely believable or photographic, that is, that does not seek to approach the prison system in a documentary or realistic way. However, there are some features of Franz Kafka's writing that help us understand the characterization of law and Justice in As on earth as beneath the earth.

Em Kafka: for oneminor literature, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari identify that many of the author's interpretations focus on “negative theology or absence, the transcendence of the law, the beforehand of guilt” (2017, p. 81, modified). Titling the story “As on earth as under the earth” is to remove hope in the existence of the divine kingdom from the characters' radar, something that could compensate for their suffering on earth.

In Ana Paula Maia, it is not possible to understand Justice and its reasons. Things are hidden in the back, in the back, in holes, covered in silence. In its actions, Justice acts in the dark and does not prioritize the clarity and accuracy of its criteria. The law is a pure empty form without content, whose object remains unrecognizable: the law cannot, therefore, be enunciated except in a sentence, and the sentence cannot be grasped except in a punishment. Nobody knows the inside of the law. Nobody knows what the law is inside the Colony; and the needles of the machine write the sentence on the body of the condemned man who did not know it, at the same time that they inflict the torture on him (DELEUZE and GUATTARI, 2017, p. 81).

Emptied of convincing grounds, the law in As on earth as beneath the earth He is distant from those whose destinies he decides. The law is the will of Melquíades. Even though he is the face of the law, Hector is fragile and the scope of what he can do is short or non-existent, considering his impotence in the face of what he sees in the colony and the non-specificity of his position: bailiff. It is a front job, which, with its reports and inspections, does nothing in the face of weapons. What he prescribes is irrelevant, as what prevails is the decision of those who wield the weapons: “the law is confused with what the guardian says” (DELEUZE and GUATTARI, 2017, p. 84).

Lawyers, judges, prosecutors or defenders are not even mentioned in the narrative. Justice is almost entirely made up of means of force and punishment: Melquíades, the colony director, Taborda, the prison guard and police officers. Far from being a bureaucratic labyrinth, as occurs in Kafka's narratives, Justice in As on earth as beneath the earth it is opacity, authoritarianism and truculence. It's arbitrariness, it's a lack of mediation, another reason for Ana Paula Maia's writing and a recognizable trait of Brazilian society.

It is not uncommon for characters to express a desire to escape the place where they are and, at the end of each book, if they do not continue to be restricted to their daily lives, they end up heading towards another scenario, different and similar to the one they know – a tragic conception of life. of such figures, for which there is no exit or possibility of transcendence. Without institutional support and living in anomie, the law of retaliation often prevails in the characters' decisions. Revenge, human beings killed using animal slaughter techniques and crimes that do not generate guilt are harshly juxtaposed with fraternal friendships and unshakable determination to see justice done.

The lack of mediation is reflected in the tone adopted by the narrative voice, which, like the character Melquíades, chooses to face reality “with the naked eye” (MAIA, 2017, p. 18), accepting material limits and giving up on transcendence . In the presentation of Between dogfights and slaughtered pigs (2009), the author exposes, not without causing astonishment, her literary intentions stating that the novels present there focus, with a naturalistic tone, on beast-men, that is, situated on the limit between the human and the animal. When discussing the novel Germinal, by naturalist Émile Zola, Auerbach maintains that, in this text, the reasons “are highlighted without fuss, without fear in the face of the clearest words, nor in the face of the ugliest events”. According to him, this art of style “serves the unpleasant, oppressive, disconsolate truth” (AUERBACH, 1976, p. 459).

Thus the prison is evaluated by the narrative voice: “The confinement of men resembles a pen of animals. Cattle are slaughtered for food; men, in turn, are slaughtered to cease to exist. It's not a place for recovery or anything like that, it's a corral for unwanted people to pile up, very similar to the spaces set aside for mountains of rubbish, which no one wants to remember exists, see or feel their odors” (MAIA, 2017, p 97).

Without illusions and devoid of vitality, the narrative voice reflects on prison with the tone of someone who does not expect anything to change, the resigned and melancholic tone of someone who has succumbed in the face of a repugnant truth. In Maia, the motive of the end – contained in the ideas of slaughter and ceasing to exist – is, then, linked to the motive of formlessness – contained in the ideas of corral, heap and garbage. In other words, things lose their specific face. The narrative implicates everyone in barbarism: the hired killers and their clients; prison officers and police officers; the bureaucrats who draw up orders; and society, which, supported by the illusion that it is possible to eliminate evil from its constitution, endorses the existence and maintenance of this chain of violence disguised as Justice.

Since the reasons for Maia's narrative discourse are the isolation of the characters, the interdiction of the future, the vagueness of space-time coordinates, arbitrariness as the foundation of relationships, the end and the formless, how can the author be included in the Brazilian literary system? What is the interest that your writing may have for literary criticism, since it does not attempt, through intertextuality, to insert itself into the country's literary tradition or contemporary trends, including detaching its texts from the spatial determinations of the national territory, with some exceptions? ?

Everything indicates that the author has a peculiar way of approaching the national reality, not through journalism, nor through autofiction, nor through the intersection between individual history and collective history. Her identity as a black woman – therefore belonging to a group silenced by history – is not brought to light in the plots. The national reality manifests itself especially in signs that reveal authoritarianism, the association between faith and violence, the rigid hierarchy in our society and the fragility of our institutions.

In the article “Ana Paula Maia and female-authored literature: women in their (in)due place”, Lígia de Amorim Neves and Lúcia Osana Zolin cite the results of the research “Contemporary Brazilian female-authored literature: inclusive choices?”, coordinated by Zolin. Analyzing a corpus of 151 novels by female authors published from 2000 to 2015 by publishers Companhia das Letras, Record and Rocco, the research identified the tendency of authors to self-represent themselves in narratives through the predominant presence of women [...] Ana Paula Maia, nevertheless, does the opposite, invests in male characters, which moves her away from this writing trajectory that seeks not only to make the female author and the female character visible, but also to create vindictive representations of women. (NEVES and ZOLIN, 2021, p. 10)

Among all the characteristics that distinguish Maia's novels, the focus on male lives to the detriment of female lives is the most cited in studies and critical reviews. The researchers reach a conclusion similar to that of Argentine critic Beatriz Sarlo. In your review for As on earth as beneath the earth, Sarlo states: Maia shows possibilities that literature written by women does not usually explore. She does not write from the subjectivity of gender or the knowledge attributed to her. She does not expose traces of the “I”, nor stories that evoke it. The narrator is a narrator, without feminine marks. […] She shows that literature can be independent of the experiences of those who put their name as author and exercise their power as narrator. Finally, it does not need the first person, which sometimes seems more like a condemnation than a liberation of female subjectivity. Literature, in this sense, experimental. [own translation] (SARLO, 2017).

We realize, then, that Maia's work establishes a contradictory contact with current trends in representation of contemporary reality. If some of its motives can also be found in other writers of the present, they are distinguished by the approach privileged by the author, who does not seek to be coherent. The thematic predilection points one way, the formal predilection points the other. We visualize the remains and the destruction, but they do not deteriorate the narration, which remains intact from beginning to end, giving it a frame and finish. Ana Paula Maia builds a world adrift, in which remnants of historical and geographic times float. The existence of this vanishing point attests to the non-existence of a more complex future for the characters. The future is what is found immediately, and not what is projected by one's own will.

*André Luiz dos Santos Rodrigues is a master's student in Brazilian literature at the University of São Paulo (USP).


KAFKA, F. The verdict and In the penal colony. Translation, afterword and notes by Modesto Carone. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1998.

MAIA, AP As on earth as beneath the earth. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2017.

MAIA, AP Char. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2011.

MAIA, AP Of cattle and men. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2013.

MAIA, AP Bury your dead🇧🇷 São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2018.

MAIA, AP Between dogfights and slaughtered pigs. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2009.

AUERBACH, E. Germinie Lacertaux. In: Mimesis: the representation of reality in western literature. 2nd revised edition. São Paulo: Editora Perspectiva, 1976.

DELEUZE, G. and GUATTARI, F. Kafka: towards a lesser literature. Translated by Cíntia Vieira da Silva. Belo Horizonte: Autêntica Editora, 2017.

NEVES, L. de A., & ZOLIN, LO Ana Paula Maia and female-authored literature: women in their (in)due place. In: Contemporary Brazilian literature studies, (62), 2021. Available at

SARLO, B. The book of the week: “Así en la tierra como debajo de la tierra”, by Ana Paula Maia. In: Telam. Article published on November 17, 2017. Available at:

the earth is round exists thanks to our readers and supporters.
Help us keep this idea going.

See this link for all articles