The fragrant entrails of dictatorship

Elyeser Szturm (Journal of Reviews)


Commentary on the novel O Fist e a Renda by Edgard Telles Ribeiro

The novel O Fist e a Renda is a perfect example of how fiction can shed light on the past, illuminating dark meanders and revealing men and mice. The author, Edgard Telles Ribeiro, is a career diplomat, award-winning writer, journalist and film professor.

The book opens with the traditional warning “This book is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or deceased is purely coincidental.” Well, the fiction starts here. If there is one filmmaker to remember (and several are mentioned in the plot), it is Orson Welles. A bit of Citizen Kane, and much of Truths and lies.

"The scenery is real”, grants the author. The story begins in 1968, and progresses in a well-engineered montage, with flashbacks and reflections on the present time (the book was published in 2010). And a few pages are enough for us to begin to recognize real characters, historical figures and lived situations. Some names are slightly modified, others are there, in all letters.

The narrator is a young Itamaraty employee, discreet, lover of jazz and literature. First up close, then from a distance, he tries to profile an older friend, Max, who masters the power game like few others. His professional ascension is favored by his closeness with the military, getting involved in dark games that little by little are revealed.

The character, transferred to Uruguay, articulates in an underground way the collaboration between the Brazilian dictatorship and the Uruguayan military, and later the Chilean ones. He promotes contacts with businessmen who finance torture, aligns himself with the CIA, maintains contact with the British M16. The blood spatter of military coups on the continent does not seem to stain Max's income fists, which later on will have a prominent role in the acquisition of German nuclear power plants. Always unofficially, of course. It is clear that the dream of the Brazilian generals was to have the bomb, something that did not interest the North Americans.

Surrounding the character, we are invited to glimpse the diplomatic environment, his parties and dinners, lunches washed down with fine wines, power disputes, jealousy and vanity.

Several books have been written about the period, but few are as original as this one. We are struck not by the banality of evil, in the sense proposed by Arendt, but by the elegance of evil, dressed in impeccably tailored suits and smoking Cuban cigarillos. And Edgard Telles Ribeiro's talent is to demonstrate that he is no less hateful for that.

It is not a political novel, in the strict sense, but rather an investigation into a man who sold his soul to the devil, when he wore a uniform and commanded dictatorships. Through the American agent, we better understand the CIA's subversive political articulations on the continent, destabilizing governments and training repression apparatuses.

Anyone who knows Itamaraty closely can identify the person portrayed, even if it is symbolic. A cultured man, a perceptive observer and a Machiavellian spirit, he knew how to take advantage of redemocratization to put on a new skin, reaching the highest steps of his career. The ghosts he drags around in his past don't point the finger at a collaborationist. And if they point, we can't see.

Other characters appear. Max's wife plays a relevant role in the plot, as does the aforementioned agent. These are the ones that reveal important clues for the narrator, giving an atmosphere of thriller from espionage to plot. The plot does not end in the traditional way, with the bad guys being punished and the good guys rewarded, which may bother more traditional readers, but precisely because of this, it establishes a worrying connection with current reality.

Written with mastery and intelligence, O Fist e a Renda is a fundamental work for us to understand the shadows and lights of that regrettable period of History. There are 560 pages of an engaging read, from which we emerge with a bitter taste in our mouth, when we realize how close we are to the same rotten powers that flourished during the military dictatorship.

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


The cuff and lace by Edgard Telles Ribeiro – March 2014 (

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