Talking on the tightrope

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By MARCELO RIDENTI*

Considerations about two books: “On the tightrope”, by Daniel Aarão Reis and “About what we don’t talk”, by Ana Cristina Braga

The political turmoil of recent years has led us to think about the legacies of the dictatorship established in 1964 in Brazil. Intellectual and artistic production on the subject is growing and has gained particular interest in the literary aspect, involving the relationships between fiction, memory and history. Examples of the most creative can be found in two recently published books: the fictional memoirs of historian Daniel Aarão Reis and the second novel by Ana Cristina Braga Martes, who exchanged sociology for literature.

Both wrote about the time of the military regime, Daniel Aarão Reis reconstructing his years as a young political activist that led him to prison and exile. Ana Cristina Braga Martes creating a pre-teen character in the 1970s who wants to discover a past that no one around her wanted to talk about.

Both can be read as formative novels, although Daniel Aarão Reis's book is based on his own trajectory, while Ana Cristina Braga Martes's is a typically novelistic construction. Readers learn from the unique experience of the protagonists, who mature to face the challenges of life amid authoritarianism in Brazilian society, which is only possible through knowledge and critical incorporation of the past.

on a tightrope

Daniel Aarão Reis is a well-known historian of the Brazilian socialist revolutions and leftists, author of the acclaimed biography of Luiz Carlos Prestes (Cia das Letras, 2014). In on a tightrope, he shows the maturity of the subject who would produce these works. Aware of the biographical illusion and vaccinated against the egocentrism of autobiographies, he uses fictional resources to seek some distance from the narrated facts, without focusing only on personal experience, also dealing with the experience of friends and acquaintances who become characters.

So, for example, imagine what was going on in the mind of a nurse working in the torture chambers, who called the family of Gabriel, the author's alter-ego, to tell them where he was being held. Or it deals with the neighbor of a militant who denounces her to her police officer husband, but warns her friend when repression was coming. Or the doorman at the United States embassy in love with the activist who approached him to discover the routine of the ambassador who would be kidnapped.

The subjective reconstruction of the past takes into account the point of view of different actors, who sometimes speak in the first person, while in others the author himself is referred to in the third person, as Gabriel. There is a narrative game, using the first and third person, in which most of the characters are given fictitious names, although clearly based on real figures, even with names that facilitate identification. This procedure indicates the awareness that these are constructed characters, starting with the author himself, even though they are inspired by people who have crossed his life.

The book is organized in the form of small short-story chapters that make up a whole articulated in three moments: dictatorship, exile and return. The clear, fluent and (self)ironic language seduces the reader, who doesn't even feel the journey through 476 pages full of the protagonists' adventures. They give food for thought about the dictatorship and its repressive apparatus that attacked several characters in hiding, in torture rooms, in prison and in exile in Algeria, Cuba, Chile, Europe and Mozambique, where Daniel-Gabriel He was a teacher after the revolution.

Along with resistance appear episodes of complicity with the dictatorship. And cases of love, friendship, everyday details, often approaching the tragicomic, as in Tocha's madness during a work that suggests distance, but never fails to move.

Daniel Aarão Reis contributes in style to the memorial cycle of dozens of books published over time by former activists of clandestine organizations fighting the dictatorship. This generation, which is approaching 80 years old, lived such extraordinary experiences that it began publishing about it in 1977, with the novel by Renato Tapajós in slow motion, written while still in prison, which recently received a well-deserved reissue (Carambaia). Soon afterwards came the tree after the 1979 amnesty, with the early memorial books by Fernando Gabeira, Alfredo Sirkis and others who felt the urgency to tell stories that had been banned until then.

What we don't talk about

If Daniel Aarão Reis leads memory to resort to fictional resources, Ana Cristina Braga Martes goes in the opposite direction, highlighting the perception of the novel's central character, that her house “was inhabited by different types of silence”. And she feels the need to reconstruct the memory of her family, her neighborhood, her city and her own country, searching for topics that were forbidden to talk about, an indispensable condition for forming her own identity. Not surprisingly, the name of the main character is only revealed at the end of the work.

The novel, narrated in the first person, tells with sensitivity and talent the life of a girl in the working-class village of a rural city during the leaden years. Readers become ensnared by the plot, gradually discovering – along with the central character – the facts “what we don’t talk about”, reported delicately, but without losing its forcefulness.

The girl learns to question her grandparents, descendants of immigrants who raised her, and the entire neighborhood about the silence surrounding the past of her parents, whom she never knew. In every detail explored in the narrative, it reconstructs the social atmosphere resulting from the fear of repression, ambiguously linked to complicity with the authorities and the hypocrisy of everyday life, with thought-provoking characters such as the twins and their colleague Stork.

Hard life in the neighborhood, repressed sexuality, violence in personal relationships even among children in a patriarchal society, with veiled or explicit machismo and racism. The environment of gender and class inequalities and oppression. The crimes of the dictatorship. All of this is approached from an original angle, in elaborate and captivating language, through the eyes of the girl who constitutes herself as a subject and a woman. Sentimental and political education of the girl who matures and has a lot to say about the past and present.

Committed to discovering facts and experiences “that we don’t talk about”, the girl would find instructive reading in the revelations of the characters who lived the dictatorship “on a tightrope”. These, in turn, would be accomplished if they had a wide and interested audience like that girl, representing the new generations. Resistance against forgetfulness is present in these two works of inquisitive reflection, each in its own way stitching together literary writing with memory and history, refusing to remain silent. Contrary to those who imagine that silence can appease anti-democratic forces.

*Marcelo Ridenti He is a full professor of sociology at Unicamp. Author, among other books, of Arrigo (boitempo). [https://amzn.to/3OzmfLu].

Extended version of article published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paul.

References


Daniel Aaron Reis. on a tightrope – fictional memories. Rio de Janeiro, Record, 2024, 476 pages. [https://amzn.to/4d1Uyq3]

Ana Cristina Braga Martes. What we don't talk about. São Paulo, Editora 34, 2023, 200 pages. [https://amzn.to/3VXS4mA]


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