The Man in the German Coat

Wassily Kandinsky, Black and Violet, 1923.


Comments on the book by Julio Ambrozio

A dead man on the Rio de Janeiro waterfront and a strange young man who pilfered his documents. This is how O Homem do Coco Alemão begins, a short novel that mixes police investigation and existentialism, with a lean, economical, minimalist stylistic treatment.

The protagonist is called Antônio Arapuca do Alto. Like a macunaimic zombie, in possession of such documents he goes out in search of the dead man's relatives. At the same time, a pair of mambembe police officers begins the so-called official investigation of the case, which unfolds between Rio and the mountainous Petrópolis.

The clues are inconclusive, the investigation process is slow and, in the end, after following the adventures of the lower middle class in Arapuca, we don't even know what the correct conclusion is.

This should not discourage the reader, however, since the main element of Júlio Ambrozio's work is not in the plots or in the suspense that could come from a plot like this. It is, rather, in the elliptical manner of his expression, in the way he constructs dialogues and descriptions as if he had a sieve of words at hand. Only the essential survives the filtering of this author's writing.

Such a formal approach certainly makes it difficult to understand the book on a first reading, but little by little, stripping itself of a more traditional enjoyment, it will have been worth it for the reader to enter this clean and unadjectivated narrative universe.

See, for example, the following description: “The car crossed the wrong way, going up the construction site. The fog was thick. Alaor pulled the brake. He steadied his eyes. He wielded the shotgun, forcing the latch. The heat roasted the grass and boiled the lake. The deputy slipped his hand inside his jacket. He drank from the bottle every day. He wiped his mouth and crooned his voice…”.

Or the montage of this dialogue between Arapuca and a woman named Zilá Bauer, with whom he has sex, at her house, located “right on the curve of the highway”:

“It stuck to the wall. And spoke:
– This one, which one is it?
Cars followed.
- That? Oh, it's my nephew.
As they always have.
– Zilá, why didn't you have a kid?
An ambulance came to the rescue”.

Ambrozio, from Petropolitan, could not resist the temptation to build, in The Man in the German Coat an “erudite” delegate who makes references to Verlaine, Hammet, Stefan Zweig and other names of universal culture. Despite sounding artificial and repetitive, this resource does not, however, compromise the book.

What stands out is the boldness of his parched and arid method of composition. At a certain point, for example, Arapuca simply disappears, in a sudden way that is not worth explaining here so as not to give away the author's game, leaving us with the feeling of visualizing frames scattered through the air.

Typical, perhaps, of a rather silly era, of generalized fragmentation, in which, as she puts it, the narrative dissolves before our eyes, like the waves on the sand of Copacabana. If there's a dead man on the beach, then all the better.

*Bernardo Ajzenberg is a journalist and writer. Author, among other books, of My life without bath (Rocco).

Originally published in the newspaper Folha de S. Paul, on March 16, 1997.


Julius Ambrozio. The Man in the German Coat. Sao Joao del Rey. Ed. Chain Bridge, 85 pages.


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