years of lead

Petrit Halilaj, Very volcanic about this green feather, 2021


Commentary on the book of short stories by Chico Buarque

“(…) we don't need to get bored. Let us reason without fear. The fog will resist” (Samuel Beckett. “The Cast Out”).

Unless I'm mistaken, the review has not yet been dedicated to years of lead, the new book by Chico Buarque. Alcir Pécora, in an article in Folha de S. Paul dated October 14, 2021, just commented on it. Emphasizing the vigor of his debut in short stories, he points out certain stylistic characteristics that would have influenced Rubem Fonseca in the criminal environment, Dalton Trevisan's cafajesty, the no sense by Sérgio Sant´Anna, with moderate experimentalism, however.

Although Pécora hits the most obvious point when he mentions in the volume “the harsh view of Brazil” in which everything – “banditry, murder, racism, tacky ostentation, militia neo-richism, etc.” – is normalized, does not develop the argument or seek the technical-formal elements that underlie this reading (which would not fit in a dissemination article). In addition, she identifies in Brazilian literature of the 1960s and 1970s the sources of literary accumulation of years of lead, but since there are thematic-stylistic elements that can actually be approximated to the works of those authors,[1] it would be essential to verify in the very continuity of Chico's work and in his reading of contemporary Brazilian reality the elements that constitute the literary form of this volume and give it unity, beyond the general theme, in the arc that goes from the hardest years of the military dictatorship- Brazilian business to this day.

There are novelties and continuities here, both in the specific subject and in the author's typical procedures (at least since 1991), some reiterated, others re-functionalized. Nobody is unaware that Chico experiments with techniques in each of his books. Nor that his mastery of them, in inventiveness and renewal, is impressive. In the inquiry of the real that is configured in his works, there also seems to be no doubt that the years of lead of the Brazilian dictatorship demarcated new subjectivities – alienated – and no perspective of transformation, which marks moments towards the subjective and objective collapse whose foundation is historical-social. Since 1991, in each new volume of Chico, moments from Brazil have been scrutinized, from different angles that privilege the individual perspective in which the difficulty of distinguishing between fact and delusion, perception of objectivity and its interpretation prevails.

Em hindrance (1991), the impossibility of the character narrator to differentiate between reality and fantasy throws the reader into an irresolvable estrangement. And, as shown by Roberto Schwarz (SCHWARZ, 1999, p. 178-181), there appeared, on the eve of the new millennium, and from the angle of the son-family living as a marginal, a society difficult to understand as such, since undone, and whose refractions could be seen in the trajectory of the character and in the apprehension of the world into which he launched himself. The background of the novel, which gave it intelligibility, went through the defeat of the left in the 1960s/70s, the invasion of the cultural industry, the world of crime – in the tone not of antagonism, “but in the fluidity of the borders between social categories – would we be becoming a classless society, under the sign of delinquency?” (SCHWARZ, 1999, p. 179). For the critic, the great feat of hindrance was to capture and formalize the new world situation in the Brazilian particularity.

Also in Benjamin (1995) blur the boundaries between reality and fantasy, this time in the hallucinations of an isolated subject for whom time has passed and not passed. Once again, the shadow of the dictatorship years hovers as a moment when subjectivity is fragmented, divided between past and future, in a paralyzed and guilty present.

Em Budapest (2003), the thematic focus is the culture production market, which becomes autonomous to the point of losing reference to what we usually call “real”. Although moving between different narrators, again producing shocks in the reader, given the estrangement given to the narrativity itself and between different spaces and languages ​​(Brazil and Hungary), the narrative games – which range from a realistic note to an unrealistic note[2] – have to do with Brazilian society in which the cultural industry, its ability to produce unrealities that are more real than reality, distorts the status of “truth”.

Spilled milk (2009) presents changes in the theme, which makes one think of a transfigured appropriation of a certain reading of our Bentinho, of D. Casmurro, mixed with Brás Cubas, from The Posthumous Memoirs of Bras Cubas. With the intention of revealing from the history of the Empire – and the globalized frauds of the ruling class – to his current time, the narrator, dying and fixed in his delusions, in addition to being economically ruined, remains the same, with his airs of superiority , despite the miserable circumstances in which he lives. This new Brás Cubas revived, almost dead, is ready to give the final word despite the degraded reality in which he is entirely immersed, subjectively and objectively. Even if he is a loser, he maintains the pose – which gains certain comic airs, but no less cruel.

His final word is not to admit the pusillanimity, the lures with the brunette Matilde-“Capitu”. What horrifies him is the racial mix in the family, the lack of pride in his descendants. If the dictatorship, here, does not occupy the central place, what is shown is how, at least since the Brazilian XNUMXth century, the arrangements of our ruling class configure the present. The present is not a loose thread in our history; its ballast rests on the old agreements of experts in corruption, which joins the dictatorship with the new despoilers of the population, poverty, illegal work and the crime it generates, as well as the weak resistance attempts on the left. Those who do not have the power for expertise, like our narrator, live on imaginary supremacies.

also the german brother (2014) is set in the years of the dictatorship, but to account for our object, it seems more relevant to us to resume years of lead to understand the authorial perspective regarding the current moment in Brazil, without breaking the dating that marks Chico's work since 1991, that is, the dictatorship and everything that continues to happen.

In the short story debut, there are new forms of literary experimentation, due to the choice of this genre (which allows the exact observation of our ruinous everyday life), and even greater thematic-stylistic refinement, especially in a certain configuration of the narrators, which will be specified below. From a thematic point of view, the general violence, in all the stories, is presented in many and unsuspected angles (including in dealing with the reader) even if it is sometimes attenuated (or reinforced?) by the comic tone.

Thus, the technical precision that goes well with the genre is combined with the deep horror of the plots, the impact that derives from the crudeness with which the facts are reported and, especially as an authorial strategy of the third-person narrators, the half-veiled irony, to mark the hardships of an artist (“The passport”) or of the aspiring artist (“To Clarice Lispector, with candor”).

The temporality of the narratives is constituted by the relative distance between the event and the report, which could establish the reflection of the characters or the narrator in relation to the facts experienced. But that doesn't happen. In addition, in stories such as “Copacabana” and “Para Clarice Lispector, com candura”, delirium and reality are mixed and, even if contradicted by the subject himself, make the world experienced by him opaque, as well as the psychic functioning of his behavior. . Organically articulated to the stylization in the eight short stories, the material, without failing to establish direct links with the 1960s/1970s, above all, reveals them on another level of figuration, marking a new historical moment of our disconcerts.

In this regard, it is worth mentioning that Pedro Alexandre Sanches, in “The lead years are today, in the writing of Chico Buarque” (2021), states that the eight narratives account for the Brazilian tragedy and the rough years we live in the present, more even in the past, especially in "Meu Uncle". As a whole, for the critic, the atmosphere of dream, delirium and nightmare of Buarqui's novels gives way to “the crudest and thickest reality”.

It seems to us that this is exactly what it is – not because it is a question of comparing contemporaneity with the 1960s/1970s, evaluating it as worse (although in fact it is), but because today those leaden years of the last century remain in what they were. repressed in the psychosocial trauma of the last 60 years and are exacerbated with unprecedented brutality apprehended from within the subjectivities in their relationship with events, naturalizing old wounds (such as the co-option – this time of the young body – by favor, at affordable prices, in “Meu uncle").

The ostensible composition of the set shows the temporal entanglement in the organization of the stories, without this meaning equalizing them: the first, “Meu tio” takes place in the contemporary world; the last one, “Anos de lead”, is the evocation of the memories of someone who, as a boy, lived in a dictatorial environment, the son of a military torturer in the most repressive years of the 1970s. ties to the past requires further investigation. Surely the past is not the present. The present is worse. But the present is nourished by the poison of that past that passed and did not pass, leaving the marks and aggravations of what was gestated there.

From the authorial angle, the understanding of Brazil (seen from the angle of Rio de Chico) through this narrative architecture crosses several temporal moments that are unmistakably linked. What before, in the author's work, centered on the perception, by the non-killable classes, that violence also involved them, in these years of lead your perspective is expanded. In the narrated matter, it is indicated what has been present for a long time for the subordinates, almost all still children or young people at the time of the events (“The cousins ​​of Campos”, in this sense, is exceptional). In this way, the pair hindrance/ years of lead results in extraordinary progress in literary formalization since the fact that the social spectrum of the central characters is broadened.

The issue that draws the most attention in them, initially, is that, in the first or third person, all the narrators recount – with the greatest naturalness – horrendous episodes: the girl weekly (ab)used by her uncle, with her and her parents’ consent , and who receives little treats and the promise to the family that they will leave the suburbs (“My uncle”); the boy who was responsible for the death of his parents, accomplices in the horrors of the dictatorship (“Years of Lead”); the black boy whose older brother becomes a militiaman and white suprematist (even though he is black) (“The Cousins ​​of Campos”) – among other plots. The technique consists of suggesting “the most tremendous things in the most candid way […]; or in establishing a contrast between the social normality of facts and their essential abnormality”, in which “acts and feelings are surrounded by a halo of absurdity [...] that makes difficult not only moral evaluations, but psychological interpretations” , to employ Antonio Candido's interpretation of a certain Machado de Assis (CANDIDO, 1970, p. 23, 28 and 31). Roberto Schwarz had already noticed the “suspension of moral judgment” in hindrance (SCHWARZ, p. 180). But here things get more monstrous. The terrible appears without rhetoric and, the most frightening thing, in a crude and, shall we say, naive way, on the part of the narrator.

The hand that creates this naivete is perfidiously malicious. It is about portraying narrators who are unaware of the abominable nature of what they report. In a first apprehension of the technique, there seems to be a reinterpretation here of the unconscious, Kafkaesque narrator,[3] but based on material that is very recognizably Brazilian. Each of the narratives – and without there being other perspectives on the scene (since in the first or third person the narrator does not doubt, nor evaluates what he narrates) – presents an account of the facts, seeming to ignore their meaning beyond (or below) ) of their own. This suggests a kind of naturalization ad nauseam of the violence of the events, including with respect to the interpretation (or rather, the impossibility of interpretation) of what was experienced and is the object of the narration. It also implies an authorial attitude towards the reader, who is receiving direct punches in the stomach and, sometimes, is faced with a tremendous humor that relieves tension and, however, brings a grimace.

Thus, violence is matter, and varied matter: rape, murder, racism, delusions of grandeur, social indifference, privileges, blurring between fantasy and reality. But it is the lack of interpretation of the lived/narrated facts that causes estrangement; it is literary form. Not by chance, the syntax and rhythm of the narratives tend towards the paratactic: without syntactic-semantic articulations, the sentences just add facts. The visibility of the scenes does not clarify the meaning they take on for those who lived through them (“Years of lead”, “Cida”) or are living them repeatedly (“Meu tio”, in which the topographical and social changes of Rio de Janeiro, the suburb beyond Praia dos Bandeirantes, is only registered by the girl, who doesn't seem to notice the difference between the city's postcard and its brutal environment). Ignorance sets the tone, or, at most (in “The Passport”), the suspicion of the affront does not lead the character to any doubt: what the “great artist” understands/imagines is what it is for his reading of the facts and for his revenge – even if objective reality contradicts him when everything has already been consummated.

Thus, perhaps it is not even correct to speak of inscience, since in the plot it is not exactly important that what was experienced, remembered or looked at from the outside (by the third-person narrator) leaves the surface of the facts. Everything boils down to a dry and factually detailed report – as if there were no more reason to interpret or know them beyond the obscure crust of the surface or the suspicion that has become certainty. As if everything were normal – when it comes to essential abnormalities and at various levels, whose foundation, of course, is socio-historical. For this reason, more (or less?) than unconsciousness, we have here a kind of disappearance of consciousness – a naturalization taken to its ultimate consequences, in which facts are not the object of reflection by the characters, in which reality and delirium do not present differences.

Reality has become as impenetrable or as alien to interpretation (for the narrator) as the fantasy that haunts some of the characters and becomes more real than reality (“Para Clarice Lispector, com candura”). If this already happened in previous books, in years of lead the social scope is enormously expanded: who occupies the stage are suburban youths, members of the elite, half-assed intellectuals, beggars, controversial successful artist. In the broad social and cultural spectrum, the stated points of view tend to become very similar, since in all of them there are no doubts because there is no reflection or, when this occurs (in “O Sitio”), it leads nowhere.

In Chico's last novel, these people (2019), different points of view collided, which was evidenced by the hybridity of genres to compose the plot. Also there, and even though the privileged focus was that of the indebted writer and with no subject to finish his novel, the questions articulated to the contemporary way of life were allowed to be glimpsed, accentuating the violence of “these people”. And who are “these people”? Everyone, without exception, from crooks to crooks, from women chasing the powerful to foreigners dazzled by the picturesqueness of Rio de Janeiro. The writer's comings and goings between the beach and the hill, between the lost comfort of social privilege and the perception of new ways of ascending through illegal work mixed with legal work, revealed the scene of the present times in the Carioca environment. Social disintegration was on display.

Again, “society under the sign of delinquency”, this time revealing the impudence of the rich, the collusion between legality and illegality, the pleasure of allowing a totally unjustified murder and enjoying perversion with it, gems among which the notation does not escape of the contemporary fad of our elites: the flight to Portugal of two of the characters. This bunch of people – which is no longer society – offers no way out other than trickery, although not everyone can enjoy the benefits of it (as seen in the failed efforts of the character writer).

Em years of lead we are facing something different. It is (and the choice of short story comes in handy) the raw snapshot of Brazilian life, from the subjective perspective of the characters, in their everyday life and intimacy, during and after the dictatorship, as if a thread crossed all the essential abnormalities that resulted from it. and settled in the daily lives of common and not so common people. It is not a question of stating that the leaden years are today, but rather of establishing the thread of continuity that, like an opaque shadow, links everyone's present to the development of a perverse and disastrous History that only got worse. We are in the history of a country that was not formed. But much more than that, from a country that will not form and has already disintegrated not only in misery, injustice, poverty, etc., but also in individual conscience (or lack thereof) – be it the suburban girl, a “great artist ”, the son of the upper classes, the rich man who amuses himself with begging.

More or less like Flaubert's narrator (and without anachronisms, but with some structuring connection, given that Chico and Flaubert deal with a society that, despite the centuries of difference, reveals insurmountable impasses), here we have a narrator who registers but does not judge it neither evaluates nor reflects.[4] These narrators of years of lead they can be even more astonishing because, especially those in the first person, they remain unperturbed in the face of what they report, glued to clear facts in their exposition, obscure for the meaning they do not attribute to them. It is up to the reader – in this violent image of the real that is returned to him – to interpret them.

And where does that come from? Not to fix the multiple ways in which the experience of reality is experienced, but, on the contrary, to fix the monolithic normality of a single way of experiencing reality, which questions nothing, which naturalizes everything. There are no points of view (regardless of the matters dealt with in the reports) that clash. Everything was reduced to the normality of the most unacceptable facts, without clarification or internal reflection: just the story coldly told, as if there was no reason to record more than the mere chronicle of events which become routine in their brutality. New national moment, in which the astonishing that is not surprising became the usual norm.

The young woman who narrates “Meu tio”, for example, tries to understand nothing. Her day with her uncle, whose objective is for him to “eat her little tail” – as she reports without horror or shame – is described with each turn of the powerful car. With that, Rio de Janeiro is shown in its topographical extremes, from the suburbs to the paradisiacal beach of Grumari (which, being so wonderful, doesn't even seem to be in Rio de Janeiro, as stated in a propaganda leaflet that I can't help but mention...), thus traversing a kind of human and social graph of the city[5] just registered impassively.

What is most salient for the perception of the young woman who reports is the power of the uncle, unquestionable, and whose origin is not an object of reflection. It's because it is; and no judgment is laid about it. Right from the start, power is a visible and indisputable commodity: when the Pajero 4×4 SUV, “white and big as an ambulance”, stops occupying the entire sidewalk of the suburban neighborhood, no one questions it; only the older ones make an “ugly face”, as observed by the young woman, who, however, does not know how to judge the reason for this and quickly registers her uncle's explanation (“envy is shit”, he says). She also notes that younger people greet the passing car in the manner of a military parade: the association, joking, is not casual. It is insinuated with the author's light hand that, between the fascination with military power and the adhesion of parts of the population to the militiamen, there is no chance: power is applauded by those who are humiliated and oppressed by it.

The uncle's non-imaginary supremacy is revealed at each step of the plot, which does not fail to point out particularities of the national moment. Abuses in traffic with speed above the allowed in the urban area; at the gas station with the display of the fetish of fetishes (cash) and the bribe facility; in the attack on the seller of parakeets, in unjustified violence and filed without any fear; in retaliation to the motorcyclist, who paid with his life (if not so much, with a serious accident) for daring to look at the young woman and attacking the hood of the Pajero; in the irregular occupation of land, whether for parking in Grumari or for building buildings. The parade of illegalities ranges from the most tremendous to the most routine, and what really matters is that there will be no consequences for any of them.

Without hinting at the meaning of what she is witnessing and experiencing, the girl recounts her walk step by step. She discovers that her uncle has a lot of cash and owns land on which he is going to build a building. She tells it, but doesn't seem to realize that there is a militiaman who illegally occupies urban spaces in Rio de Janeiro (disrespecting the building standards), in a neighborhood where ordinary family life, probably of the upper middle class, is surrounded by fences , guardhouses, doorman, while on the other side of the same street the favela, shops and popular bars grow. And the inhabitants of that other side submit: as soon as they see the car, they slavishly move away to make way for the powerful.

On the beach, she enjoys oysters – emphasizing that her uncle taught her to enjoy the expensive appetizer. The uncle pampers her: she emphasizes that he does not stop giving her his favorite popsicle, without realizing the malicious insinuations of the treats or the pittance of what it costs the uncle. She doesn't know it's cheap merchandise. And young and fresh.

In the report, the impotence of her uncle (who needs to take Viagra and tells her to buy the drug at a pharmacy in the upscale neighborhood) is not perceived as such by the girl. Just noted and misinterpreted: "They must have thought that only a very suburban girl goes shopping in a bikini." At the motel, the non-protocol sex, enhanced in the foreplay by a porn movie, is fast and exhausts the uncle, who soon falls asleep. But, as he sleeps more than he should, he gets angry and sends her to take a taxi to return home. The kindness of the beginning does not last until the end.

When the girl arrives back, the mother, who knows everything, observes if she used a condom and sees that she did not, because the package is closed. She fears that her daughter will get pregnant, as her uncle is married and will not let go of his wife. The father (who, at first, had pretended to sleep when the uncle arrived) defends his daughter and is not afraid of having a consanguineous grandson. What lurks in this permissiveness is not indicated. It is up to the reader to ask himself.

The facts, indicted as something iterated, whether in the (weekly?) , it is the time of promiscuity, illegality, criminal enrichment (in a peculiar way typical of this new “class”, the militiamen) that draw the profile of the new powerful – who, by the way, do not wear masks. They ascended, they will not leave the place and will take advantage of the underprivileged and the powerless to live their small great pleasures, conquered with money, and the most pleasurable of which is the command – of bodies and spaces. The years of lead resound in this here and now, but they are already different. This time in the hands of militiamen forged in the regime of contemporary times.[6]

The last one, “Years of lead”, will be linked to this tale, in which the dictatorship itself, in its most terrible years, is apprehended without understanding from the perspective of a boy (as in “Meu uncle”), in his family environment. . Even if the narrator tells his story years later, the distance between what was experienced and what was narrated does not bring relevant comments from the enunciator regarding the facts.[7] It is not a question of maintaining the youthful perspective through free indirect speeches or dialogues on the scene, but of the absence of any reflective step that would be supposed in the act of narrating what was experienced.

The argument of the short story, simple, is plotted in a complex way. The story is, in a few words, that of the death of his parents, provoked by the boy, without him knowing why. For fear of being scolded for the fire you caused? But why lock the door and thus give them no chance of escape? None of these questions go through the story, neither the boy he was nor the narrator who retells the episodes.

The plot, captious, from the title refers to historical time. The first moment of the narrative reports in the first person the games of the boy, who lives around with toy soldiers. He only has one friend, the son of his father's superior, both in the military. The protagonist needs crutches due to polio[8] and, because he is humiliated with the nickname “manquitó”, he rarely leaves the house, not least because his mother is super vigilant, accompanying him, holding his hand, which makes him feel even more degraded.

Restricted to the domestic environment, he also records what he hears or sees at home, but without understanding the meaning that he sometimes tries to understand, but mistakenly. Thus, when his mother was already the major's lover, his father's superior, the boy, one night, when seeking help to relieve the cramps, realizes that she is in bed with the major; he hears whispers and wheezing, contained laughter and – with no narrative transition – descriptions of the forms of torture inflicted on the prisoners, followed by what the boy cannot decipher: “my mother and the major became quieter, and I could only hear the panting of the two, then my mother's moaning voice saying anus, vagina, anus, vagina”.

What seems to really matter to him are playing with the little soldiers. Friend's are better; he steals them. His mother betrays him to his father, who abuses him, regrets it and gives him some little soldiers from the Brazilian Army, “very mean”.

The friend gradually moves away: he is interested in football. He never stayed for dinner, as he thought the boy's mother's cooking was very bad. Connecting a with b, but in an erroneous way, this is how the boy understands why the major brings fine food to dinner with his mother when his father is not, busy with his nocturnal activities as a torturer that the major delegated to him.

The father speaks ill of the major, as he was responsible for the dirty work, dealing with “prisoners of war”, while his superior rose in his career without getting his hands dirty. However, in front of the major, he licks his boots every time he visits his house. The major, on the other hand, gloats over his father's honesty, behind his back certainly, and even trips him up, both by becoming the lover of his friend's wife and by pleading with the High Command to eliminate prisoners and reduce expenses; thus, he gives his friend a break-up who “should stick to interrogations that are actually useful to the intelligence services”, and, to boot, he receives recognition from his superiors. For the major, why spend “time and money” on inflexible prisoners or madmen or zombies? With the agreement closed with the Air Force, those creatures “would be dropped by plane on the high seas”, and, says the narrator “I don't know if I understood that part”.

In the boy's imaginary battles, the authorial touch (perhaps too obvious for the initiated reader) is ingenious. They have historical references, with real heroes and enemies, without the boy making them explicit, and are re-enacted in the games he plays at the time when the violence of the dictatorship intensified: on May 9, 1971, he plays with the battle of Major General James Stuart (United States Confederate General); on August 5, 1972, with that of General of the Imperial German Army Lothar von Trotha (who, in the early years of the 30th century, commanded the German atrocities against the native peoples for the domination of the lands of South West Africa, leading to the near extermination of some from them); on April 1973, 1867, that of General Custer (who in XNUMX had fought against the Sioux Indians).

The tale begins without explanation with one of these jokes, the attack by the Confederate army in the XNUMXth century. For the reader, the narrative effect of superimposing dates from the present of the utterance to past events causes strangeness. Especially since it's these banter that entangle the narrative; the other events, apprehended indirectly by the boy, tend to loose reports that escape his understanding.

He plays with tin soldiers on certain days in 1971, 1972 and 1973 – which, as is well known, were the years of lead, when unprecedented violence befell leftist political movements. Children's imagination was obsessed with "warlike deeds" of domination over peoples, which is linked to the warlike and homicidal climate of the time, as heard in conversations between father and mother ("from what I could gather, my father dealt with with prisoners of war, criminals who had real blood on their hands”) and with the violent atmosphere of the house (“[my father] would come home with his jaw set and out of the blue he would start hitting my mother”).[9] The possible consciousness has been shattered since then, in the author's view, and not by chance at the moment when our platypus, born by the Dictatorship, in turn aborted by the collapse of modernization and the crisis of value.[10]

In conversations in his circle and surroundings (the major's family), the narrator – whose distance from the boy he was is annulled – notes facts. The father is almost always humiliated by his wife for not receiving bribes. The mother, on the other hand, fucks the major when her husband is in the cellars of the dictatorship, torturing prisoners. The boy goes on telling all this, not knowing exactly what it is about and how serious the events are. He continues with his jokes – the last one in 1973, with General Custer massacring Indians – in an indirect allusion, through authorial conscience, to the victory of Operation Marajoara, which annihilated the Araguaia guerrillas (and, to boot, tortured peasants, made them informers). under threat of assassination and had them guide the soldiers into the woods.In a spectacular display of their triumph, the Operation killed Oswaldão, beheaded him and hung him by his legs on a rope tied to a helicopter[11]). Not to mention, of course, the extermination of the poor linked to the drastic effects of the 1964 coup.[12]

This time, as a game, the boy lights a match to set fire to the Indian huts, made with paper napkins. The flames get out of control, ignite the quilt, spread and the boy's measures to avoid the fire are useless. He then runs away for fear of being beaten by his parents. On his way out, he locks the armored street door from the outside – without knowing why – in the house with its electric fence and barred windows. With nowhere else to go, he goes to the ice cream parlor and, after walking around the block, sees the entire house on fire. He notices the arrival of firefighters, as well as the fact that it is already too late to save the parents.

As in “Meu tio”, the paratactic account goes on enumerating facts, without the explanation that the narrator could give to them enter the scene, or, if he does, it is to attest that he did not understand them well. Not remorse, anger or any emotion. He impassively recounts the terrible events he heard and practiced. When he quickly reports the events that culminated in the "burning" of his parents (a Buarquian pun on the crimes of the dictatorship), he does not forget the detail that he went to have a "lemon popsicle", saw his parents clinging to the window bars and that it was due to traffic that the firefighters arrived too late.

How to understand the delinquency of this boy, the son of a military man, who fantasizes about fights from another historical time to, perhaps, give imaginary form to the present war that he senses in the air? How to understand it if the narrator has no interest in interpreting it? Fact upon fact – and, like the narrator of “Conto de Escola”, by Machado de Assis, this boy from “Anos de Lead” seems to have his formation determined from there.[13] He became a great person in the horrors he witnessed and practiced. He grew up in a militarized, anti-communist, violent, corrupt, immoral home – treating it as a routine. In this case, naivety is not just an authorial strategy to reveal clouded consciousness; it is also about retelling the abominable through the voice of those who have the power of the narrative and the power itself, intolerant of the law.

The narrative set, which begins with the girl used and abused by her uncle and ends with the boy responsible for the death of his parents, links the hard years of the Dictatorship to contemporary Brazilian history. A time whose continuity is marked in the destruction of movements to contest the dictatorial regime and which, in the authorial perspective that results from the volume, configured the normalization of violence in all spheres of social life, as well as engendered new subjectivities in all social scales who, stuck in an anomic world, no longer want to understand anything and have their advantages from this. Facts are recorded and their meaning is not asked. This is returned to the reader as their task.

In the organization of the set, the second tale is “The passport”, in which the villainy becomes the motto. Narrated in third person, at an angle close to the character, the center of the plot is the misadventures of the “great artist” who does not find his passport shortly before leaving for Paris. Hence the imbroglio when he goes looking for the document, with comical events in the quid pro quos of his wanderings through the airport, passing by the police, the free shops, until he reaches the bathroom where he finds the passport in the trash, purposefully soiled. The successful artist, now the object of resentment by many, becomes the victim of a sordid revenge for the difference of opinion of an anonymous antagonist of his career (a militant of cultural anti-Marxism?).

Even having found the passport and managed to avoid the frustration of not traveling to Paris, he maintains a fermented rage that no anxiolytic is capable of curbing. Already on the plane, as suspected of a young playboy, who slept well “like all real scoundrels” and with “the typical scoundrel smile”, makes it an undoubted fact. No longer just “an apprentice scoundrel”, he takes revenge on the supposedly responsible person who, for him, is the indisputable culprit: whatever the imagination dictates is true. The culprit is the handsome man with an attractive girlfriend; O playboy of “compound name”, “four surnames, the multiple names of the father and mother and their date of birth”, as the artist verifies in the passport in which there are entry and exit stamps from “Paris, New York, Prague, airports of the East ” allowing a glimpse of the resentment of the “great artist” against the other and which leads him to the enjoyment of revenge. Revenge comes back: the artist steals the passport of the playboy while he is sleeping, he throws him into the plane's toilet and flushes the toilet: the "scoundrel" will not enter Paris.

But finally, revenge consummated, he was completely wrong: the man who tried to stop him from traveling is his companion in the seat of the plane. With protocol cordiality – typical of Brazilian behavior that ranges from fury to sympathy – the artist wishes his partner a good stay. And then the decoy is revealed: the man he thought was French, but is Brazilian, tells him, lighter in hand: “Next time I’ll set fire”. The plot involves resentment, destruction of the other for the pleasure of destruction and revenge. Consequences? Zero, except for the playboy.[14]

“Os Cousins ​​de Campos”, followed by “The Passport”, narrates in the first person the memories of someone who, distanced from what he has experienced, remembers events in his life since he was six or seven years old. The killables enter the field of scrutiny of segregation and extermination since the years of lead. The probable date, 1 or 1970 – years of the World Cup and the bragging spread by the dictatorship – matters to the narrator because of his contact with his cousins, who live in Campos and spend their July and summer holidays in the family’s cramped apartment. Although the narrator claims that he does not have “a good remote memory”, he soon contradicts himself, as he keeps scenes from his early childhood, even if with some dubiousness, and makes them present (“when I am… in the classroom […] Or maybe it is in the living room [...]. It must be the World Cup [...], p. 1974).

The coexistence between them seems typical of their age, with fights between them and also with supposedly harmless teasing that already marks incivility or strategies in the face of high fares. Cousins ​​know the ropes. But, after several infractions of taking the bus and getting off without paying, they are caught by the police; at the police station, the narrator receives different treatment from his cousins, who were forced to strip naked and were beaten with iron bars on the soles of their feet. The mystery of this treatment is not object of reflection by the narrator, although it is indicted by him.[15]

The older brother has a violent problem with his cousins, a fact that the narrator attributes to jealousy, which is gradually contradicted by the development of the plot: for the brother, they are “two sons of a whore, no more, no less. ”, and the reader will only understand the literal meaning of the insult during the course of the story: the narrator’s father (black) had an affair with his cousins’ mother (“escurinha”), and with her he disappeared into the world without leaving a trace.

Living with just his mother and brother, in a lower middle class situation, the boy tries to remember his father's traits by looking at photographs; the father appears to him “only [as] a shadow” in the photograph, not realizing that what he calls the “shadow” is a portrait of a black man.

It begins here, just for the reader, the explanation about the older brother's anger against his cousins. They, blacks, are the children of the “escurinha” mother, the aunt who ran away with the narrator's black father, a soccer player of some fame. The older brother, who took after his mother, white, becomes a promise in football [father's inheritance?], but had his career derailed by a “creole” who fractured his bones, tendons and ligaments.

On one of the occasions when the cousin comes to his house, outside the holiday season, the narrator points out that he had forgotten that his younger cousin had been slaughtered in Campos, news that had been given to him hours before. Faced with the danger of also being murdered, the eldest takes refuge at his aunt's house, as the narrator, reproducing his mother's words, tells his girlfriend that he will be well protected there: “the Campos militia will not want to cause trouble in the country. territory of the Rio militia”.

But the cousin is not safe even inside the house. Persecutions against blacks are the order of the day, the white suprematist militia is in organized action and one of its members is the “Afro-descendant” brother of the narrator.

In the broad historical arc that is set up in this exceptional tale – from the years of the World Cup and the exterminist dictatorship to the paralegal exterminations of the Bolsonarist era – there is no rupture, but continuity, as the authorial hand indicates when including among the figures of the present the girlfriend of the narrator, militant of the black movement. At the end, the narrator notes: when fleeing with his cousin to Barranquilla, Colombia (a city where traffic runs rampant), he sees on the asphalt of the street “the traces of a super flag of Brazil”.[16]

In the composition of the set, not all the other stories have the same power of revelation of the Brazilian reality. But there are old aspects present in contemporary times, such as the relationship between the well-off and the miserable, in “Cida”, in the first person, a new piece of class cheekiness sweetened in solidarity. In the character's presentation, the narrator even deceives the reader who assumes that they are both from the same social class, since he meets her, a resident of Praça Antonio Callado, in Barra da Tijuca. Soon comes the blow, however: Cida lives in the Square, begs that she dresses well, although anachronistically, since “for charity and for debauchery” she gets clothes from the rich people of Leblon.

Some camaraderie is established between the narrator and Cida only when the alms are generous (which reveals that Cida is also in the logic of the fetish). Superiority fantasies also take hold of her, who claims to be pregnant by an extraterrestrial, emperor of the planet Labosta. The narrator, worried about the imminence of childbirth, tries to take Cida to the hospital, but she disappears and, some time later, returns to give him her daughter, which, of course, our supportive man not only does not accept, but shouts at the top of his voice that “ she's crazy”, defending himself against Cida's screams, who accused him of, abusing her for some time, not wanting to recognize his daughter. The screams attracted the “little people” (doormen, nannies, cooks, the driver and conductors at the bus stop) and put our narrator’s respectability in check. Cida disappears again, this time for good. Years later, when it is no longer possible for Cida to be in the square, because “the association of residents of the neighborhood no longer wanted to hear about beggars on the street, and when necessary, they called the city hall, which took them to overcrowded shelters, when they did not send the public cleaners shoo them away with jets of water”, the narrator meets Sacha, Cida's daughter, who shows him her mother's ashes. Also a beggar and psychically maladjusted, Sacha is sure her mother will come back to life when she returns to Labosta.

The other is a quaint curiosity that can turn dangerous. Solidarity only exists when it does not create problems, as the narrator states at a certain point in his camaraderie with the beggar woman: “Afraid that she [Cida] would follow me home, on the way back from the walk I would sit next to her on the bench. the square, where she ended up lying down and sleeping”.

Dreams of grandeur are not the privilege of poor freaks. The first-person narrator of “Copacabana” is a curious kind of megalomaniac, whose fantasies of superiority involve living with renowned artists, such as Neruda, Borges, Ava Gardner, and political personalities, including Echeverría, but who, for the narrator, also could be Etchegoyen.[17] This young man, who looked rich when seen from the front, but poor when seen from the back, affirms what he fantasized as if it were fact, and without hesitation contradicts the veracity of the delusion, since the status of truth no longer matters to him. What matters is looking important (if seen from the front), when its lack of importance is shown in the truculence that gets inside the fantasy, disavowing it: “I was grabbed by two big guys. They said I didn't have the qualifications to attend the GoldenRoom [of the Copacabana Palace]”.

The indistinction between fantasy and reality is what also dominates in “A Clarice Lispector, with candor”: a juvenile episode, narrated in third person, leaves marks on the life of the 19-year-old young man in love with the work and later with Clarice Lispector herself. Over many years, he maintains adoration for the artist even after she is dead. The mother, in her late 90s, would prefer her son, aged 70, to choose a partner or even a partner, “with the right to adopt a set of twins”, rather than the psychotic fixation on person by Clarice Lispector, who takes possession of him (“See there, son, see if you don't go out dressed as Clarice Lispector”). From what can be deduced from the speech of the mother, who is ninety years old, the results of the new identity struggle have already become normalized in some social circles. But it's the paranoia that wins.

In “O Sitio”, a love idyll in times of a pandemic does not work out, from the choice of place to the strange figure of the caretaker. The crush is thwarted, the woman disappears, and the narrator, going against what he narrates, says: “I don't miss her, or poignant memories, nothing. When I look back on it, I think of time that sort of spins around, sort of always passing in the present, sort of being a gerund, so to speak. Rather, I think of it as a watertight episode, with no before or after, already detached from me”. Wouldn't that be a nice authorial trick to deal with what a certain intellectuality understands in the form of presentism?

Chico's volume does not let up: wherever you look, the opacity of reality and the disappearance of the consciousness of the characters and narrators, as well as the triumph of hallucination over reality, are the raw material. Stylized, it shows what there is, as a result of the era that, in Brazil, is wide open with the military dictatorship and with the international scene. The unfolding of the broad historical arc refers to what seems to have no way out except through its literary figuration. Who knows, capable of giving courage to some attempt to imagine what could happen.[18]

*Ivone Daré Rabello is a senior professor at the Department of Literary Theory and Comparative Literature at USP. Author, among other books, of A song on the sidelines: a reading of Cruz e Sousa's poetics (Nankem).



Chico Buarque.  Years of Lead and Other Tales. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 2021, 168 pages.



ARANTES, Paulo Eduardo (2004). “Nation and Reflection”. IN: zero left. São Paulo: Conrad, 2004, p. 70-108.

CANDID, Antonio. “The New Narrative”. IN: Education by Night and Other Essays São Paulo: Attica, 1989, p. 199-215.

_____. “Schema of Machado de Assis”. São Paulo, Two Cities, 1970, p. 13-32.

CARONE, Modest. Kafka's Lesson. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2009, especially p. 65 and 101.

JAPPE, Anselm. the autophagic society: capitalism, excess and self-destruction. Trans.: Julio Henriques. São Paulo: Elephant, 2021.

PÉCORA, Alcir. “Chico Buarque in years of lead shows vigor in his short-story debut”. In: Folha de S. Paulo, October 14 from 2021.

SANCHES, Pedro Alexandre. “The years of lead are today, in the writing of Chico Buarque”. In: farofafá, November 5, 2021.

SCHWARZ, Roberto.“A novel by Chico Buarque”. In: Brazilian sequences. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1999, p. 178-181



[1] One thinks here not only of the description of life in the big cities, especially Rio de Janeiro, but especially of Rubem Fonseca's “fierce realism”, which “assaults the reader with the violence, not only of the themes, but of the technical resources – fusing being and act in the effectiveness of a masterful speech in the 1st person [...], advancing the frontiers of literature towards a kind of raw news of life” (CANDIDO, 1989, p. 211). This trend is certainly linked to the historical moment – ​​the tremendous 1960s and 1970s, years of turbulent radicalization of populism at first, and then of the execrable brutality of oppression and repression. One cannot forget, moreover, that these decades were also characterized by urban violence, loose criminality, the economic and social marginality that the dictatorship commanded and that did not end with the end of the regime.

[2] On the novel, see the dissertation by Matheus Araújo Tomaz, Budapest in the contra game. A literary study on objective paranoia in Chico Buarque. DTLLC/FFLCH/USP, 2021. The terms “realistic grade” and “unrealistic grade” are the author's own.

[3] One thinks here of the exceptional interpretation that Modesto Carone gives to the Kafkaesque narrator, in Kafka's Lesson (São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2009).

[4] As is known, Flaubert gives birth to the narrator far from the traditional figure of authority, capable of appraising and judging. Instead, his impassive narrator is an instrument of precision, which fixes a certain image of the real for a reader who will have to interpret and judge it by his own means.

[5] It should be noted that the geographical-social investigation of Rio de Janeiro is not unprecedented in the work of Chico Buarque. New here is the fact that there is no description of the spaces covered, only observations and passant.

[6]See Gabriel Feltran. “Elementary forms of political life: on the totalitarian movement in Brazil (2013- )”. In: Blog da boitempo.

[7] In one of the crudest scenes, the narrator acknowledges that, upon hearing from the Major that his father “shoved objects into the anus and vagina of the prisoners”, he comments that “I didn’t know those words, but I guessed, if not by their meaning, by their sonority: the word vagina could not be more feminine, while anus sounded something darker”. What amazes, since childhood, is not the fact, but the word.

[8] The polio note to characterize the character is not free: the well-off family neglected their little boy or was in denial about vaccines. In the 1970s, the prevention rate was high, and vaccination had already existed since the 1960s, with wide public campaigns, after violent epidemics in Rio de Janeiro in 1953. Currently, the rate of vaccinated children has decreased, which could bring about the return of disease, until now eradicated in Brazil. It is not without humour, but with grotesque cruelty, that the current ones are associated here with those 1970s.

[9] The so-called “years of lead” refer to the years of fierce combat between the right and the organized left (with the extermination of the armed struggle); the police-military repressive apparatus and its paramilitary basements had the support of large companies. In 1971, the Vanguarda Popular Revolucionário was decimated, the organization responsible for the kidnapping of the Swiss ambassador to Brazil, whose release took place with the exchange of political prisoners. There were deaths and disappearances of hundreds of civil militants and activists involved in activities considered subversive by the dictatorial government; others went into exile or went underground. With press censorship, the facts were either not reported or reported indirectly (the famous “cake recipes”), when not spurious and lying.

[10] I owe the suggestion, and even the statement, to Paulo Arantes, who tied up the ends of what was untied. The formulation would require development that, however, does not fit in this essay. It is worth remembering that, from the catastrophic awareness of backwardness (according to Antonio Candido) to the disappearance of consciousness – which is formalized in years of lead, we are facing a fact that is inseparable from the objective illusion of our critical tradition. If there was a time when nation and reflection were articulated, now we experience the critical exhaustion of the use of the concept of “nation”, as well as the difficulty of reflection and imagination under new parameters (which are no longer national) (cf. Arantes, 2004, p. 70-108). In Chico Buarque's work, the formalization of this (what I called the disappearance of consciousness) is refracted in individuals, but its foundation is Brazilian history.

[11] I thank Maurício Reimberg for the terrible reference.

[12] As is known, the 1964-1985 dictatorship completed Brazilian industrialization and encouraged the consumer sector. On the other hand, the external debt increased, inflation reached extremely high levels, little was invested in health, education and social security (with visible impacts even today), the currency was devalued, government corruption increased, contractors linked to politicians, the minimum wage was flattened, the population lost purchasing power – in the midst of the neutralization of consciences by the cultural industry, which expanded immensely, and by the nationalist slogans, implemented in sports achievements. In the bloodthirsty struggle against revolutionary militancy, the military and businessmen built what is our present today, and not just from a strictly political point of view.

[13] The reference to “School Tale” should not be taken for its structuring. In Machado, the adult narrator distances himself from the events and narrates how corruption conquered him. The comparison has only to do with something that simulates being the “formative years” in the Brazilian style.

[14] With the exception of Brazilian particularities, here we think of the categories of contemporary subjectivity described by A. Jappe in The autophagic society.

[15] The rates of tortures against the killable population appear here with raw realism, indicating that they were common in those years and before them. This is relevant because the torture of political prisoners occupied the discussions at the time (even with censorship) and little was said about the atrocities against common prisoners and the collusion of the police with violence in cells. See: “Every pissed in the juvenile police station I get slaps and necks, not to mention the threats from the sheriff, a mastodon in swimming trunks who is the boss of the cell. The sheriff, in the language of the police, is the biggest pleat-buster of the kids who come down to the district”.

[16] O Revival of nationalist pride in the Bolsonaro era includes the motto “Brazil above all” created at the end of the 1960s, shortly after AI-5, by Centelha Natividade, whose activities aimed to resurrect the values ​​“of non-xenophobic nationalism, of love to Brazil and to create means that would reinforce the national identity and avoid the fragmentation of the people by ideology and exploitation of dissent in society, dividing the people in terms of the old class struggle of Marxism”. According to Colonel Claudio Tavares Casali, the motto was much questioned due to its similarity with the Nazi cry of “Germany above all” (in German, “Deutschland über alles”) (cf.: “'Brazil above all': learn about the origin of Bolsonaro's slogan”. In People's Gazette, no date). It should be added that the motto of neo-Pentecostals in the Bolsonarist era was added to the right-wing motto of the 1960s: “Brazil above all, God above all”.

[17] Echeverría was president of Mexico and ruled with a rough hand between 1970 and 1976; Etchegoyen, the only soldier to publicly speak out against the 2014 Truth Commission report.

[18] This text, in a preliminary version, was debated at a meeting of the Contemporary cultural and social forms group, organized by me and professors Edu Teruki Otsuka and Anderson Gonçalves. I thank the members for their resulting contributions.

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