Dragons don't know heaven

Image: Adir Sodré


Commentary on the book by Caio Fernando Abreu

“This book only took shape when, studying Chinese mythology, I realized that my characters were dragons. Why? Dragons do not exist, they despise power. They want to feel. They don't want to read. All my characters are looking for a lost emotion or love. In an executive world they are as mythical as dragons. That's why they don't know the paradise of VCRs, microwave ovens, artificial beauty. Dragons not only do not know, but despise this world. I think the book talks about the risk of people losing their soul and becoming a stereotype. I try to warn against this danger. I am happy with the book and would like people to like it” (Caio Fernando Abreu).

It is not so simple to write about the Dragons don't know heaven, by Caio Fernando Abreu (1948-1996). At first, one is in doubt whether it is a book of short stories or a novel. As the reading progresses, it is possible to see that it is a volume of short stories, with stories that are somewhat dependent on each other, a book of short stories about love; “Love and sex, love and death, love and abandonment, love and joy, love and memory, love and fear, love and madness”.

The theme of love is directly linked to another, that of emptiness and his attempt – almost always failed – to overcome it. This void exists between people, suffers fleeting interruptions, given by a conquest, a successful harassment or an unexpected show of affection. The epigraph itself, by Adélia Prado (“Life is so beautiful / all it takes is a kiss / and the delicate gears move, / a cosmic necessity protects us”), taken from The Pelican, sets the tone of most texts.

“Linda, Uma História Horrível” deals with the return of a man to his maternal home, located in the countryside. Both have a lot to talk about, but say little. The son tries, but he can't go ahead, the abyss between them is huge. In “O Destino Desfolhou”, a 12-year-old teenager who lives in Passo da Guanxuma, falls in love with Beatriz, a year older. But something stops the romance, it does not materialize, she dies of leukemia and only memories remain – “what she now calls, with affection and bitterness: that time". “By the Open Sea” is the weakest story in the volume. There are only five pages in a single paragraph, endowed with pure sound. In “Sem Ana, Blues”, the successful executive abandoned by the woman he loves indulges in unbridled consumerism, having sex with women who were the opposite – in every sense – of Ana and, also, to what is in the fashion: whelks, I Ching, Tarot cards, group therapies, psychodramas, new haircuts, younger wardrobe, yoga, bodybuilding, stretching, etc. “I was getting so beautiful and renewed and liberated and forgotten about the times when Ana still hadn't left me…”.

“Saudades de Audrey Hepburn” takes place at a St. John's Festival at the home of “fine people”, where, among others, the “Post-Graduate Student Undecided to Assume His Evident Homosexuality”, the “Writer Who Got More Success in Italy than in Brazil", the "Crazy Panther Willing to Anything for a Higher Status" and the "Publicly Assumed Lesbian". All this between pine nuts, quentões, curaus and pamonhas. At the time, the character was not afraid of death, and "this quasi-story belongs to that time when love did not kill". “The Saddest Boy in the World” explores the disappointment that permeates the existence of an almost 40-year-old man and a 20-year-old boy, who talk throughout the night in a bar in São Paulo. In “Little Red Shoes”, a secretary makes menage a quatre with strangers without taking off your sexy little shoes. Every time she opened the closet drawer and came across them, she tried not to give in. “But almost always the impulse to wear them was stronger. Because after all (…) there are so many Fridays, so many neon signs, so many lonely and hot boys lost in this dirty city…”. There is also “A Little Beach with Very Clear Sand. Ali, na Beira da Sanga” and “A Outra Voz”, which do not add much to the volume. “Pequeno Monstro”, a short story with a traditional narrative, is dedicated to guilt-free, tasty and joyful eroticism, between a teenager and his older cousin, in a summer by the sea.

A veteran “Lady of the Night”, at the end of a journey in which she dismissed a charming young man, concludes that, shut up alone in her room, away from all the hustle and bustle, she is nothing more than “a scared child”. “Mel & Girassóis” features a mature couple on the beach, in a 5-star hotel, with “all that simulacrum of Hawaii around them: mature, ready. Waiting". The lovers complete each other, the fruit is harvested and, apparently, it is one of the few stories – next to, perhaps, “Pequeno Monstro” – in which the partners free themselves from the clichés that haunt them. But the best story is the one that gives the title to the book, “Dragons Don't Know Paradise”, rightly placed last.

It is a kind of synthesis of previous works, in which the characters resemble dragons, that is, beings condemned to solitude, outcasts, who fight relentlessly in search of love (or its illusion). Otherwise, absolute loneliness will arise, “the chaos of disorder without sex”. The illusion of love goes hand in hand with the illusion of the existence of God. Like love, dragons do not remain, “they are just enunciations of themselves”. The dragons “eternally rehearse, they never debut. The curtains do not open for them to enter the scene (…) The applause would be unbearable for them (…) Dragons do not want to be accepted. They flee from paradise, that paradise that we, the banal people, invent (…) Their paradise is conflict, never harmony”.

the tales of Dragons don't know heaven feed on what is present in our daily lives, that is, the fragmentation of reality, with its ambiguities, in which individuals play their role without much concern for the text, identity is lost and the characters resemble empty packaging. Reading it helps to understand where we are and, like what happens in life, most of the time, the happy end not always present.

*Afranio Catani, professor at USP and visiting professor at UFF, he is the author, among others, of The Shadow of the Other: Cinematográfica Maristela and Cinema Industrial Paulista in the 50s (Panorama, 2002).

This article reproduces, almost entirely, the original published in the extinct "Caderno de Sabado" of the Jornal da Tarde in 26.03.1988.


Gaius Fernando Abreu. Dragons Don't Know Heaven. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 1988.


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