Black earth

Regina Silveira


Commentary on Rita Carelli's novel

Rita Carelli's debut novel, Black earth, inserts an innovative vision in contemporary Brazilian literature. With clearly autobiographical elements, the author, born in 1984, recalls and re-elaborates an existential dive among the peoples of the Upper Xingu.

The teenager Ana, who loses her mother in São Paulo and is forced to accompany her father, an archaeologist, in the middle of an indigenous territory, places herself in the intersection zone between several conflicting worlds. The transition from childhood to puberty, the timid and difficult rapprochement between cultures, beliefs and different ways of leading life, the establishment of friendship and affection relationships that flirt with the emergence of sexual desire.

What a white person like me can only define with crude words, as in the paragraph above, is reworked by Rita Carelli in a confessional, sensorial way, without ever losing the thread of the narrative. It ingeniously mixes different times, with actions that take place in São Paulo, Xingu and Paris, where Ana goes to study and from where she returns to reconnect with the bonds that bind her, seeking to untie the knots.

Although it is her first novel, Rita Carelli knows the secrets of writing. Author of children's books that cover the indigenous mythological universe, she is also the director of book-films such as One day in the village (2018). Her father, Vincent Carelli, is an anthropologist and documentary filmmaker known for his work with Brazilian indigenous peoples.

This biographical load could lead Rita's novel to a mere “training” account, with an anthropological flavor, but without authentic creation. However, in Black earth we are faced with a narrative, sometimes realistic, sometimes poetic, where legends and traditions are intertwined in such a way with history that they flow with the naturalness of a stream in the middle of the forest.

Water plays a crucial role at different times. The bathing ritual, fishing, dialogues by the river, tears, the liquid nature of women, synthesized in the almost epilogue “Leito do rio”. Water is life, fire can be death, for the people of the forest. In a movement contrary to that of the white invaders, who impose their values ​​and their transgenic soy, Ana and her father are porous, absorb the culture they are taught, and slowly transform.

Far from the romanticism of José de Alencar or the political bias of Antonio Callado in Quarup, Rita Carelli builds in Black earth a narrative where the suffocation of indigenous territories and peoples emerges clearly at the end, when the protagonist returns from Paris to find her “family” and do her homework. Kuarup folks.

The author warns in a note that the characters are fictional, and that she has created a “cultural amalgam” of the Upper Xingu. Even indigenous words are made up, she declares. However, we intuit that the reported cosmogony is real, as well as the customs and rituals. the ceremony of Kuarup plays a fundamental role in the novel, in its basic meaning: symbolically burying the dead once and for all, so that they (and the living) can be free from pain, sadness and longing.

If at times the description of myths and ceremonies may seem didactic, at the end of the reading we come to the conclusion that the novel would be impossible without this resource. The book brings praise to Ailton Krenak, which is no small feat. And Rita Carelli, who created an unparalleled work here, demonstrates narrative mastery and imprints veracity in each paragraph, credentials that allow her to venture into new fictional paths. Good reading to illuminate dark times, where the extermination of native peoples, destruction of forests and poisoning of rivers, ceased to be a threat to be a reality.

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



Rita Carelli. Black earth. São Paulo, Publisher 34, 2021, 240 pages.


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