Image: Paulo Pasta (Jornal de Resenhas)


Commentary on Paulo Freire's novel

One of the most challenging enchantments – or one of the most enchanting challenges? – of contemporary literature is the coexistence, not always peaceful, of different forms and styles. The last hegemonic literary movements that characterized an era are definitely buried in the XNUMXth century. Romanticism, Realism, Modernism and other isms keep cropping up here and there, but mixed with new ways of telling a story.

It is possible to venture to the limits of language, implode grammatical rules, flirt with graphics, seek unusual sounds, cross the boundaries between prose and poetry, as well as explore the paths of orality, popular language, recovery of myths and ancestral traditions. , shedding new light on veins that have not yet been exhausted.

The romance Jungle, by Paulo Freire, fits into this last category. And it is impossible not to mention the biography of the author, for a more accurate assessment of the work. Paulinho Freire, as he is known, was born in São Paulo, in a literate cradle. He studied journalism, and motivated by reading Grande Sertão: paths, traveled to the north of Minas Gerais where he dedicated himself to the study of the viola caipira. He had a local master, Seu Manelim, from whom he learned secrets of the instrument, in addition to clearing crops, planting rice on the ebb tide and burning firewood.

Back in São Paulo, he studied classical guitar, played with many people, animated dances. He toured Europe and studied in France, but the viola and the sertão imposed themselves on his life. He composed soundtracks, recorded several albums, and developed the art of storytelling on stage. Or stories. His shows are a mix of narratives and compositions, where he filters the various influences, from erudite to sertanejo.

The novel interweaves two distinct trajectories. A family that leaves the hinterland and goes to the South for survival, and that is pulverized by the death of the father. Some die, others are lost, some return after some time, carrying traumas that cannot be erased.

The protagonist of the novel is Maria do Céu, Céu, nicknamed Selva. A young woman who leaves São Paulo, abruptly abandoning her family, and “becomes a hippie”, in the words of an aunt. She experiences drugs, fleeting relationships, lack of money and other setbacks. Interested in medicinal plants and herbs, she ends up in the hinterland of northern Minas, where she establishes an intense relationship with Teófilo, one of the survivors of the first saga.

Freire escapes the obviousness of a love affair between the characters with an ingenious artifice. When they meet, he is in his sixties, and only then do we realize that the initial narratives take place at different times. The relationship that is established, therefore, is that of a master who knows the herbs, bark and roots of the sertão with an apprentice who seeks to make this something that gives meaning to her life.

There are other relevant characters, such as old Luduvina, Teófilo's foster mother, supreme master of teas, ointments and potions. Brothers and sisters are gaining a defined profile, and the subtle arrival of a street vendor, a veterinarian and biology students will change the fragile social balance of the small community. And coal miners threaten on the horizon with the smoke of destruction.

It is clear that Paulo Freire put a lot of his experience into his character Selva, like any good fiction writer. The direct language, without flourishes, seeks the orality of its stories, but without losing sight of the fictional dimension. Not a neophyte. He has written other novels, essays and travelogues. Writers who don't play any instruments often turn up their noses at musicians who write. It's a petty, frustrated feeling. Contemporaries of the writer, playwright and composer Chico Buarque, winner of the Camões prize, should have been less corporate (or envious?).

Jungle it's not a perfect novel. There are some inconsistencies here and there, some episodes ask for more details, some characters could be more detailed. But isn't that the case with the tasty stories that Paulo Freire is used to telling on stage? When we read a string, does it cross our minds that such a character should be more developed, or that that dramatic knot could be explored more? Of course not, we embark on the enjoyment of the story and just hope it's told well. This reconquest of orality gives another flavor to the complex elaboration of the dramatic arc of a 360-page novel, which is emotional at times. As the Italians say, “if it's not true, it's bene trovato! "

Paulo Freire adds an icing to the cake: in each chapter there is a QR Code where you can listen to a soundtrack, composed by the author, to increase the atmosphere of the reading. Not even Chico Buarque thought about it...

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


Paul Freire. Jungle. São Paulo, Editora Bambual, 2021, 360 pages.

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