Literature in Quarantine: Ana's Summary

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By ARTHUR NESTROVSKI*

Commentary on Modesto Carone's book of short stories

Modesto Carone, Kafka's translator, is well known to all. His translation of the Czech writer's works is rightly regarded as a consummate example of what this art can do, which is so rarely recognized. The logic of meaning in Kafka, compelled by the logic of the German language, gains an unexpected analogue in Portuguese, in the sense of the language reinvented by the translator.

Sense and language have another accent in Anna's Summary (Companhia das Letras), the fourth book of short stories by Modesto Carone (after The Marks of the Real, At Matilda's Feet e Better days), destined to make him even better known as an author than as a translator. The same thinness, or style rigor of the Brazilian recreator of The process, the same prose in reverse beauty serves here a movingly personal and Brazilian narrative, capable of inverting, to some extent, the direction of influence. If it is inevitable to read Carone in the shadow of Kafka's tales and parables, it is no less true that these memories of Sorocaba come to alter, for all of us now, the Kafkaesque fantasies of Prague. There are not many Brazilian writers today about whom something similar can be said, which indicates the dimension reached by Carone.

O Summary, in fact, there are two: two lives, recovered in their essential episodes. Grandmother Ana (born in 1887) and uncle Ciro (1925) are “faithful servants of our landscape”, as Drummond says in a poem that serves as an epigraph to the book and that obliquely illuminates these stories. The poem is an ancestor's exhortation to the "son of a hundred years later", his "natural end". There is an implicit narrative, therefore, in the relationship between author and characters, enriched by “João Carone” who signs the impressive cover photo – a German juggler in the skies of Sorocaba, in the 1950s, which in the context takes yet another turn in the screw of interpretations.

In such sober and controlled prose, the passage of these lives lived so hard until their exemplary realization, in perfect sentences, composes another book, in contrast to the general downfall. The fragmentary but coherent narrative of small and large disasters, two lives falling into a slow vertigo, melting into misery, as if obeying some indecipherable law, still suggests other book, preserved between the lines by the author's reticence. Without making this a focus, without interpreting or “summarizing”, this is also an account of Brazil, written with the “somewhat comical sadness” that Drummond refers to, in the labyrinths of family contingency.

Each stage of these lives, each step on this ladder down from constraints and ruin, corresponds to moments that the narrator's intelligence recovers as if there were a meaning in everything. But there can only be final meaning if everything is in the past; and the very effort of the narration makes one think that there are no fixed limits for creation, nor for revelation. From this point of view, few books, like this one, have such wisdom to situate death. The author's respect for the lives narrated is never more forceful than in its ending, which does not exclude awareness of the absurd.

Between truth and meaning, between past and future, these stories translate experience into the present: an enigma at the apex of interpretation. Succinct and discreet, but capable of bringing the hardest reader to tears – which are also a way of thinking here –, Anna's Summary enters Brazilian literature serenely, with the confidence of works that know what they are. Anyone who has eyes to read will read, and will know how to surrender to Modesto Carone's attentive and humane art.

*Arthur Nestrovsky, musician and literary critic, is Artistic Director of OSESP and author, among other books, of Everything has to See. Literature and Music. São Paulo: However, 2019.

Originally published in the magazine Bravo!, September/1998; and in the book Word and Shadow: Critical Essays (Atelier, 2009).

Reference

Modest Carone. Anna's Summary. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 1998 (https://amzn.to/3qzSemU).

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