Mysticism in Torto Arado

Anna Boghiguian, The Salt Traders, 2015


Considerations on the novel by Itamar Vieira Junior

This brief commentary on one of the most successful contemporary Brazilian novels is more a speculation about fictional alternatives than a critique of the meticulous work of the author, Itamar Vieira Junior. Some readers will think that I give away about the ending, which is not exactly true. I hope that my daydreams serve to sharpen curiosity, never to discourage reading. Just as I also hope that all the mystery and charm of the word revelation can never be replaced by the vulgar and exotic spoiler.

The qualities of the beautiful novel Crooked Plow have already been praised enough in literary circles. Awarded in Brazil and Portugal, it brings rural Brazil back into discussion, the black population deprived of their basic rights, the exploitation of rural work, the omission of Justice and the absence of public policies in the mid-twentieth century. Without placing dates, the author was able, in a very skilful way, to portray a situation that still lasts, guaranteeing its relevance. A geographer by profession, and an employee of Incra, he has lived with the agrarian question for many years, and knows firsthand the world he portrays. Or recreate.

The starting point is promising. Two sisters, descendants of slaves, born in the countryside, go through an experience (an accident?), still girls, that will mark their lives. Bibiana is the narrator of the first part, and designs the setting, places historical data and introduces the main characters. The beginning is magnificent, as a literary achievement. A writing full of colors, flavors and senses, which evokes and revitalizes authors linked to regionalism, such as Graciliano and Rachel de Queiroz.

The book is divided in three parts. The narrator of the second part is the other sister, Belonísia, and here there is a painful irony, since she has no physiological voice. The contours of the characters gain sharpness and also nuances. Both are daughters of Zeca Chapéu Grande, a community and spiritual leader who incorporates entities in jarês, rituals of African origin with indigenous and spiritist influences.

We can say that with these resources the author distances himself from the raw realism of regionalism and approaches authors such as Jorge Amado and João Ubaldo Ribeiro, Bahian masters in miscegenation between genres. And also the so-called Latin American magical realism, which profoundly marked the formation of many contemporary writers.

This strong confrontation, never resolved, between mysticism and reality, the subjective and the objective, faith and materiality in social struggles, is the big knot of the third part. The narrative voice is given to an entity, Santa Rita Pescadeira. And the culminating moment, in dramatic terms, where feelings of justice and revenge mix, is determined by a supernatural factor.

There is creation in all of this, there is a certain poetry. Making an analogy, one of the most memorable moments of the novel Shepherdess of Noite, by Jorge Amado, happens when a Candomblé entity falls on a priest, inside a church in Salvador. Some can make psychoanalytical readings of these moments of trance, in which a character makes crucial decisions inspired, consciously or not, by his ghosts, his memories or his beliefs. To stay within the Western canon, Shakespeare used this ploy well in Hamlet and in other works.

The problem that the third part of Crooked Plow What matters is the extent to which we depend on external, mystical or religious solutions to solve the material problem of the agrarian question, the struggle in the countryside, the recognition of the rights of black people, indigenous peoples and immigrants. A very earthly character, Severus, emerges early on. It takes shape in the second part, and becomes fundamental in the outcome of the plot. He goes to study in the city, becomes a trade unionist, marries Bibiana, and returns to his homeland to organize the campesinos. But it will not be by his hands that justice will be served. He will be part of what Frantz Fanon called “the damned of the earth”.

Therein lies one of the great dilemmas of the novel. Between fantasy and facing reality, there is a wide stream of artistic possibilities. If Itamar Vieira Junior kept the dramatic outcome on the rails of realism, he would receive applause from some and criticism from others. Traditional defenders of class, gender and race would turn up their noses.

And vice versa. The option for an ending motivated by the immemorial and unconscious force of traditions can captivate some and attract antipathies from others. In a country torn apart by a genocidal, racist and environment-destroying government, it is naive to believe that the gods will save the indigenous people, the quilombolas, the unemployed, the homeless and without food. Or even that a semitic god turned white will save the middle class, if they remain compliant and conniving.

Long and prosperous life Crooked Plow (name extracted from a verse by the arcadeist Tomás Antonio Gonzaga, in Marilia de Dirceu), for its obvious stylistic and sociological merits, despite the caveats. We look forward to the author's next works, which promise to deepen and broaden the theme. And may Raduan Nassar's epigraph quoted in the book inspire your pen: “The land, the wheat, the bread, the table, the family (the land); exists in this cycle, said the father in his sermons, love, work, time”.

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



Itamar Vieira Junior. crooked plow. São Paulo, However, 2019, 264 pages.

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