Literature in quarantine: Milton Hatoum

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By Daniel Brazil*

Commentary on the trilogy the darkest place

Fictional Brazilian literature about the years of military dictatorship has yielded many titles, from the pioneer Passover: The Crossing (1967), from Carlos Heitor Cony to recent classics, such as K, report of a search, by Bernardo Kucinski, released in 2011.

There are dozens of short stories, novellas and romances, which approach the period without having yet exhausted all the nuances of the dark period that extends its bloodthirsty hand to us, like a ghost. Just like the vast literature on Nazism, Stalinism or the Second World War, it is always necessary to remember, so as not to forget or repeat.

Milton Hatoum had already set the stage for previous works, such as Northern Ashes, during the dictatorship. But in the trilogy the darkest place, started with the night of waiting (2017) (https://amzn.to/44h0B4k) to vanishing points (2019) (https://amzn.to/3Oz5fow), the coup military government takes on a leading role, directly influencing everyone's lives.

Based on a character, Martim, a young man from São Paulo whose parents separate and he goes to Brasília, the first volume portrays the student and artistic movement in the Federal Capital in the 1960s, until the invasion of UnB by the troops and the persecution and arrest of those who made any kind of resistance. Living with his father, an unscrupulous seller of lots for Novacap, Martim becomes increasingly attached to the memory of his mother, whom he cannot see again, and to his new friends at UnB, who gather around a theater group and a magazine. literary.

The first volume is strong, realistic, and delineates the characters well, even when it gets on the fringes of power. The leftist bookseller, the disillusioned diplomat, the luxury pimp, they are all there. Brasilia, then an island formed by migrants from all regions of the country, sinks in treachery and betrayal. The militant Dinah, Martim's first girlfriend, will have a significant role in Martim's life. All of this is reconstructed through memories, papers, diaries, letters and reports from various supporting actors.

In the second volume, the setting is São Paulo in the 1970s. Martim leaves his father and tries to study architecture at USP. He starts to live in a republic in Vila Madalena, where he lives with new characters. The reading becomes more complex, since the dates of the testimonies, letters, diaries, etc, skip a few decades. Paris becomes more present, with several protagonists in exile, recalling the adventures of the time.

All of this reflects the trajectory of Hatoum himself, who lived in Brasília, in São Paulo, studied architecture and went to Paris. That is, he speaks of a reality that he knew firsthand, through fictional characters. Here and there we caught references to real names and events, such as the death of Alexandre Vanucchi Leme and the mass at the Sé cathedral, surrounded by police.

However, something is lost in the second volume. The female characters of the republic are confused, they are poorly defined. Martim's obsession with finding his mother again (did he go underground?) makes him withdrawn and depressed, according to his companions. The scheme of reports, diaries, letters, etc, gets a little tiring.

As in a symphony, where after a vibrant first movement we move into a long somewhat monotonous (albeit polyphonic), everything can be saved with the third movement, if Hatoum knows how to tie up all the loose ends and lead the reader to a final if not exciting, at least worthy of applause. We look forward to the third volume in the trilogy. The darkest place.

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

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