Who spoke?

Image: Valeriya Kobzar


Commentary on André Cunha's recently released novel

The agile and humorous prose is what immediately emerges in the opening pages of this Who spoke?, novel by Brazilian writer André Cunha. A journalist in her 30s, Rebeca Witzack, tells in first person her romantic misadventures in Florianópolis, in the south of the country. After leaving a relationship, she reports, with a lot of mockery and irony – “without drama”, as she herself says – , how she started dating another man and became pregnant with a third.

The first, her ex-boyfriend, is a surfer who she meets again at a party in Jurerê Internacional, a resort for wealthy people, taking photos and flirting with a rival. Jealous after seeing the scene, Rebeca leaves, but soon returns to the party, where a friend introduces her to a successful businessman in the health sector. She starts a relationship and starts living in a mansion with the businessman, who becomes even richer due to the pandemic. But she soon gets bored and cheats on him with an app driver, a resident of the outskirts of Florianópolis and a lookalike of actor Marcos Palmeira. With a somewhat disconcerting frankness, bordering on cynicism, the narrator tells us how she went from one relationship to another, without much moral hesitation.

The most entertaining sections of the novel are those in which the protagonist analyzes famous songs from the national songbook. One of them is when Rebeca tells how her ex sent her an email, remembering a song that the journalist liked – All the feeling, by Chico Buarque –, in a kind of emotional blackmail to get back together. But now, with the distance of time, she can look at the past relationship with lucidity and listen to the song with a little more suspicion.

In very funny passages, mixing sentimental life with existential questions, the narrator unravels and contests Buarc's verses, bringing to the ground what, for a certain audience, is an unavoidable monument of Brazilian culture. See the mixture of literary analysis, independent judgment and considerations about love, all seasoned with a lot of humor: “(…) Look at the record of bad behavior in this part: I prefer to leave in time so we can get rid of each other. . Huh? If you prefer to leave, leave, very well, just don't come with excuses. Worse is Chico singing ‘puder’. It's power that speaks, Chico Buarque. Stop acting like a redneck. Furthermore, what is this supposed to mean? The person already enters the relationship preferring to leave, the abandonment is premeditated, this is proof of the crime. Cunning. Manipulator. Toxic. Bad. (…) Here, I quote Paulinho: He weaves his plans in secret/ Leaves without saying goodbye. That's a good one, I thought. Light hearted. Much better than Every feeling. In fact, I think the self-esteem of white males is formidable. Doesn't it seem, dear readers, a bit generic? Imagine the scene: noble composer, what are your new verses about? Above all. Everything that? How it feels. In what sense? (p. 20-21)”

But let the reader not be mistaken: behind this lightness and humor, there is a complexity that is not apparent at first glance. Alternating the characters' voices without prior notice, going back and forth in time, with her eye (attentive) on her cell phone and her ear (distracted) on the interlocutor, the narrator-character gradually composes a mosaic that gives us something to think about the world. contemporary. Mixing references from Brazilian culture, pop universe, philosophy and literature, the journalist addresses issues such as pandemic, mental health, self-medication, virtual relationships, Brazilian inequality, etc.

But this fragmentary narrative is not just a whim: it seems to be based, to a large extent, on the language of the digital world, especially social networks, already integrated into the subjectivity of the narrator and, consequently, into the form of the narrative itself. Thus, categorical judgments, sudden changes of opinion, and exposures of intimacy move fluidly from the virtual environment to the journalist's own life. Internet jargon, language meme, videos that go viral (including an intimate video of the protagonist), opinions that change with the tide, definitive conclusions are not only external content, but also materials incorporated into the fabric of the novel.

Added to this is the journalist's own mental health, whose madness she herself recognizes, attributing it to her endometriosis. The pandemic exacerbates this already deteriorated state of her psyche, which causes Rebeca to take even more medication. At a certain point, she can no longer distinguish what is delusion and what is reality. Thus, this narrator's subjectivity converges with the already disturbed environment of the internet. Both, in turn, will converge in a third instance, namely, Brazilian matter – our peculiar social arrangement, inherited from the times of slavery, which will result in our brutal inequality.

Thus, the journalist navigates the Tupiniquim social abyss naturally – both among rich people and celebrities, in Florianópolis and Balneário Camboriú, and among the poorest, in the humbler neighbor São José, where the father of her future child even lives. In the same way, it alternates between social concern and bourgeois indifference, between ethical hesitations and a blind eye to petty crimes, between order and disorder, the legal and the illegal, configuring our typically Brazilian ambivalence. The volubility of this narrator, therefore, is not one fact among others, but the very mark of our national specificity. It is as if the structural trends of Brazilian society met the trends of the internet, these of a global order, and both met in the already crazy subjectivity of our heroine.

Combining issues of this order, André Cunha aligns himself with a tradition in our lyrics that combines cutting irony, shameless sensuality and Brazilian reality, alongside people like Reinaldo Moraes, João Ubaldo Ribeiro, Dalton Trevisan. Dispelling the seriousness and psychologizing dimension of much of our contemporary literature, focused only on the characters' inner lives, the author proves that it is possible to say serious things with humor, without pedantry, at high literary voltage. In the current scenario, it is an achievement to be celebrated.

*André Tadao Kameda is a PhD candidate in Literary Theory and Comparative Literature at the University of São Paulo (USP).


André Cunha. Who spoke? São Paulo, Penalux, 2023, 160 pages. [https://amzn.to/3RSn5op]

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