Roniwalter Jatobá

Tayseer Barakat. Sea without a coast, 2019.
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By DANIEL BRAZIL*

Roniwalter Jatobá is the author of extremely original work, a fan of clear and precise writing that never slips into vulgarity

In an already ironically classic work, the writer Ítalo Calvino (1923/1985) set out to answer the famous question “Why read the classics?”, defending the need to know the most striking texts of each era, with arguments that range from pure enjoyment aesthetics to the historical need to know the foundations and barriers that support the literary edifice of humanity.

Without the elegance of the Italian master (born in Cuba!), I risk saying that one of the living Brazilian authors who comes closest to the concept of classic, in the sense of being necessary, is Roniwalter Jatobá. Author of extremely original works, a cultivator of clear and precise writing that never slips into vulgarity, he has maintained since his first published works a thematic and formal coherence that distinguishes him from the vast majority of his contemporaries.

Roniwalter Jatobá featured migrant and worker characters as protagonists in the mid-1970s. It would be an exaggeration to say that he was a pioneer, but no one had been so consistent and believable until then. His writing is an existential and sociological dive, translated into first-quality literature, without the slightest trace of academicism. Since Flavor of chemistry (1976), inaugural volume of short stories, going through the essential Chronicles of working life (1978) until Blue-black Grassquit (1994), a novel that recovers environments, situations and characters from previous narratives, Roniwalter Jatobá's writing is refined, concentrated, without diverting the focus.

What can a work like this teach us? Not only Tolstoy's “if you want to be universal, start painting your village”, but “if you want to be universal, portray your era”. Roniwalter Jatobá combines time and geographic space with the wisdom of someone who has experienced it and the boldness of not being a mere reporter, but a transfigurator who uses language to create a fictional field full of verisimilitude and forcefulness.

The author also published chronicles, other short stories and novels in the 2000s, being awarded the Jabuti in 2012 for Smell of chocolate and other stories.

The works of the working cycle (Flavor of chemistry, Chronicles of working life and Tiziu) were gathered in the volume On the factory floor (New Alexandria). Reading (or rereading) these texts today allows us to establish sometimes disturbing connections with the transformations that the world of work has been going through, all over the world. The growing precariousness and loss of hard-won rights mix with the preservation of authoritarian structures that come from previous centuries, creating a swampy terrain that few authors risk treading.

Roniwalter Jatobá does so with craftsmanship and narrative conciseness, without fear of using poetic images, even if marked by the harshness of reality, or of narrating in the first person seeking to touch the reader closely. And this approach both shocks and fascinates, a rare ambiguity that only masters handle perfectly.

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


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