Lima Barreto, chronicler

Image: Elyeser Szturm


Commentary on a selection of chronicles by Lima Barreto

"Decidedly, men don't take care, and even Death, who should be the sovereign master of us all, is powerless to put a little elementary common sense in our brains."

This sentence, so current in these times of pandemic, was written in 1919 by Lima Barreto, in a bitter chronicle about the effects of the Great War on world politics.

Although he is recognized as one of the great Brazilian writers, much of the work of Afonso Henriques de Lima Barreto was not available to the reader. For this reason, the publication of the volume the militant chronicle (Popular Expression, 2016) is a welcome contribution to rescue his journalist-chronicler side.

It is clear that in the “dark times” in which we live, this compilation did not have the repercussion it deserved in the mainstream press. The political-judicial-mediatic pact that deposed a legitimately elected government cannot look favorably on the texts of an anarcho-socialist writer who denounces the ills of capitalism, even if they were written a century ago.

Before dying, in 1922, Lima Barreto had a volume ready (trifles), grouping together chronicles published in various publications in Rio de Janeiro. The writer was a staunch critic of the official media and white plate, expressing a preference for marginal and independent, anarchist or satirical publications. Of these, the most famous was the magazine Mask, where the author of The Man Who Knew Javanese published under various pseudonyms.

Most of the articles in this collection were written during and after the First World War (1914/1918), and analyze a world in social and political upheaval. Barreto writes against racism, defends the Russian Revolution, criticizes American imperialism, mocks the rulers of the occasion, deplores “honor” killings, attacks academic formalism in the press of his time.

In fact, in terms of language, Lima Barreto is a precursor of Modernism. His writing is direct, often ironic, although it seems pedantic to XNUMXst-century readers the amount of quotations in French or Latin that he uses. It is as if the writer, mulatto, poor and without titles, seen with some distrust due to his political militancy (and his persistent alcoholism), felt obliged to “bring culture”, to demonstrate erudition.

The organizers of the collection (Claudia de Arruda Campos, Enid Yatsuda Frederico, Walnice Nogueira Galvão and Zenir Campos Reis) were happy to include a delightful essay by Astrojildo Pereira, published in the 2nd edition of trifles. Founder of the Brazilian Communist Party in 1922, the intellectual points out that Lima Barreto was not a Marxist, nor did he have an orthodox background, but was an eclectic humanist who wrote with “acute intuition”.

The only thing that bothers me, in this edition, is the excess of primary footnotes that lead the interested person to interrupt reading to see if there is any special meaning and resume reading irritated by the obviousness. A footnote to explain what “open-air mass”, “playful”, “recluse”, “Breton” or “immaculate” is, let's face it, is to mock the intelligence of an average reader. To compensate, there is at the end a “list of names, titles and places” of real value, contextualizing various characters and places mentioned in the chronicles.

Rereading and getting to know Lima Barreto's work and thought in a deeper way is essential. Honored at Flip-2017, the author of unforgettable characters such as Policarpo Quaresma surprises, in many ways. From his folkloric aversion to football (which he considered a pathetic imitation of the English) to the uncomfortable topicality of some statements, such as the one he makes after participating in a trial, that “the mass of jurors is of an astonishing intellectual mediocrity, but this does not testifies against the jury, for we know of what strength of mind most of our judges are charged.”

At various times, it sounds prophetic: “The belief in the almighty power of money, which among us first took possession of São Paulo (...), is overwhelming all of Brazil, killing our good qualities of detachment, of sweetness and generosity, of modesty in tastes and pleasures, lending us, in exchange, a hardness with the humble, with the inferiors, with the wretched, with foolish and unfounded superstitions of race, class, etc., in this age of great and just claims, threatens us of death, or if not of bloody struggles”.

In another article, goes to the heart of the matter. “In summary, however, it can be said that all the evil lies in capitalism, in the moral insensitivity of the bourgeoisie, in its unbridled greed of any kind, which only sees in life money, money, whoever dies, suffers whoever suffers”.

Lima Barreto, who thematized this feeling several times (see the short story the new california, which adapted for the cinema perhaps became Vera Cruz's best film, Bone, love and parrots, 1957) continues to be fundamental to understanding Brazil.

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


Lima Barrett. the militant chronicle. Select organized by Claudia de Arruda Campos, Enid Yatsuda Frederico, Walnice Nogueira Galvão, Zenir Campos Reis. São Paulo, Expressão Popular, 2016 (

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