Regionalist literature in the 21st century

Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, The Corridor, 1950


Commentary on Benilson Toniolo's novel

The so-called Brazilian regionalist novel emerged in the 19th century and had brilliant moments in the following century with Graciliano Ramos, José Lins do Rego, Rachel de Queiroz, Jorge Amado, Érico Veríssimo and Guimarães Rosa, among others. Even Monteiro Lobato, to a certain extent, can be classified as a regionalist, when he focuses on his dead cities in the Paraíba valley.

A regionalist author is considered one who describes and dramatizes his region, its geography, its customs, its people. The classification excludes metropolitans, even though they also describe their region, their geography, their customs, their people. Machado de Assis, Lima Barreto, Dalton Trevisan, Rubens Fonseca or Milton Hatoum, among many others, are never classified as regionalists. It can be inferred, therefore, that the classification has an almost romantic meaning: it is linked to the rural world, isolated communities, villages and corners that do not connect with the world in the way we experience it in metropolises.

That these universes continue to coexist on the planet is a social and cultural problem of the 21st century. Great authors, in literature, cinema or visual arts, continue to thematize the regional. From Mia Couto to Ismail Kadaré, from Garcia Márquez to Itamar Vieira Jr., each one paints their village, whether imaginary or real, far from the hustle and bustle of the city.

With the expansion of “progress” – roads, automobiles, environmental destruction, land grabbing, violence, television, internet, drugs, neo-Pentecostal churches – several authors have expanded the limits of classical regionalism, introducing a mixture of values ​​and ambitions that corrupt the ancestral scenario , almost never idyllic.

A romance like Boys' Bar, by Benilson Toniolo, is proof of the renewal of the genre. Using lean language and valuing dialogue, the author recreates the microcosm of a small community in the interior of Sergipe, which lives off crab fishing and roadside stalls. The chapters are short, almost autonomous stories, and focus on the multiple characters in order to compose a mosaic where the plot gains complexity with the arrival of the first neo-Pentecostal pastor in the locality and his attack against the Indians who have lived there for hundreds of years.

In a scenario covered several times in Brazilian literature, Beniolo Toniolo introduces this very current element of conflict. The characters are developed with technical mastery, and keep the reader's attention, with a well-balanced rhythm and increasing suspense.

A female figure, Violeta, cultured and cosmopolitan, stands out from the crowd when she arrives in the town. She is a dancer and choreographer who plans to study the movement of crabs before heading to Europe. An intentional estrangement, due to the contrast of speech and behavior, which triggers an imbalance in the fragile existing social organization, just like the pastor. The curious thing is that they are antagonistic factors, ethically and morally, and they are not even found in the plot, but they cause irreparable changes in that microcosm.

Benilson Toniolo, with published stories, chronicles and poems, debuts as a novelist, joining a team of fiction writers who have been injecting new blood into the “old” regionalism, a trend that still promises many surprises in this turbulent century.

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


Benilson Toniolo. Boys' bar. São Paulo, Penalux, 2023, 264 pages. []

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