Literature in quarantine: Forty days

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By Daniel Brazil*

Commentary on the novel by Maria Valéria Rezende

Maria Valéria Rezende is one of the most prestigious contemporary Brazilian writers. In addition to a vast work for children and young people, she wrote short stories, chronicles and novels that won over a legion of admirers.

forty days, released in 2014, is perhaps his most visceral work. The author reveals that she lived for several days on the streets of Porto Alegre to create the story of Alice, a retired teacher who is coerced by her daughter to leave her apartment in João Pessoa to take care of a future grandson, in the capital of Rio Grande do Sul.

The narrative, written in the form of a diary, reveals in an almost brutal way Alice's emotional disturbance, as soon as she arrives in the city and is abandoned by her daughter, who goes to study abroad with her husband. An old notebook, with a Barbie on the cover, becomes the repository of the protagonist's frustrations and revolt. Dissatisfied, she takes to the streets looking for the missing son of a friend from Paraíba.

Some references are evident. The title's forty days echo the biblical episode of Jesus walking in the desert, fasting. The protagonist's name reminds us of the character of Lewis Carroll, in his erratic adventures in other realities.

Maria Valéria Rezende's Alice goes hungry and cold as she wanders through the outskirts of Porto Alegre, entering slums and construction sites, sleeping on benches at the bus station, trying to assimilate the blow of having been deceived by her own daughter. An uncertain Cicero's search for her has something of self-flagellation, but also of sublimation, as if the reunion of someone else's son filled the void that had arisen in her life.

More than the plot, we are involved by the writer's narrative domain, which alternates excerpts from the diary with a later report, intentionally leaving some pages incomplete, sentences without a period. These dialogues with the Barbie that adorns the cover of the notebook reflect the distressing and confused state of the character, who will find relief in some figures that cross her path, beings that also roam the city, but that keep some values ​​such as solidarity and gratitude. 

In these dark times of quarantine, meeting the forty days by Maria Valéria Rezende is more than a simple numerical coincidence. It is an encounter with Brazilian literature of the XNUMXst century, through one of its greatest representatives.

Disturbing reading, which leads the reader to penetrate an invisible world, a black, northeastern, poor and unequal Porto Alegre, far from the media and the postcard. But it is in this wonderland that Alice, with no rabbit to guide her, finds her way out of her nightmare.

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

Reference

Maria Valeria Rezende, forty days. Rio de Janeiro, Alfaguara, 2018 (https://amzn.to/45AS518).

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