A transparent woman

Fritz Wotruba, Vrouwelijke rots, 1947-1948.


Commentary on the novel by Edgard Telles Ribeiro

“The best way to deal with absurdity is to turn it into fiction.” This phrase, by Edgard Telles Ribeiro, in the form of a postulate, is the motto that animates A transparent woman, novel in a certain way historical, but which is too strong to be merely historical, and which is too historical to be merely a novel. It is a book rich in thought-provoking psychological observations, which reveal an author who says a lot in few words. I believe that this symbolism of the qualitative, and not the quantitative, is what most impresses the reader of Edgard Telles Ribeiro.

The absurdity experienced by a violated and lost youth, who wanted to give themselves a voice in truth commissions, transformed into fiction, still remains absurd, because there are absurdities that cannot be reconstructed in any other way. The torture scene, in which the author describes the character in a coffin, summarizes a cruel death, because it substantially occurred in the soul, although not projected onto the body, if the Platonic dichotomy can make any sense in our culture. The torture page is a scary page. It's emotionally claustrophobic.

A transparent woman It is a beautiful book that captures dilemmas of three generations; that is, if I can exchange the quarter of a century for four lustres, as a way of counting. If the analogy is possible, the book suggests an innovative abacus. Historical time is mediated by the intellectual with the pistol at his waist, one of the book's mysteries, by the corpulent history professor, who married his student twenty years younger, and by the time of the transparent woman, who gives the book its title, and who It is on every page and at the same time on no page at all. A vaporous character, whose olence the author suggests in two passages. The reader imagines that the title character is a discreet and at the same time deliciously perfumed woman.

A defined and imprecise fact, on a late afternoon in May 1962, is the starting point for an enigma, which links three substantially different women, who come together, and complete each other, in the unraveling of their complicated lives. 1962 (two years left before the coup), 1982 (eighteen years after the coup) and 2002 (when the times of resentment supposedly came to an end, and when we mistakenly imagined that there would be no more coups) are the historical landmarks of the plan narrative.

Each of these dates marks inflection points for the central characters, trapped in their respective times, especially because, in the narrative, the power to make choices belongs to the narrator. At this point, the book brings a bit of literary theory, with very intelligent digressions about the power of authors, which is qualified by the caustic reminder that “(…) playing God has its limits (…) sooner or later all books end up in the tallow.”

A transparent woman is a novel that faces the scars of the dictatorship (physical and emotional), and that deals with psychological states of permanent suffering, doubts (Machadian, there are scattered signs of adultery), coincidences, secrets, the Casa do Barão (on the old Rua Larga) and, in the latter case, the reader gathers the reminiscences of the author, who served as a career diplomat.

The Morning Mail and Paulo Francis make a cameo in the narrative. There's even a labrador, Astor, who, like Saramago's Cão das Lágrimas, cannot be missing from a story full of humanity.

The narrator (what's his name?) is haunted by the unusual accident of the girl in the red dress (whose name is revealed almost at the end of the book). He is also cornered by another incident, marked by the one that revealed to her family what her husband tried to hide from his family.

The narrator is held hostage by “the body on the sidewalk [that] had transported him to distant worlds”. The difference between falling into the sea and falling onto the sidewalk may not be symbolic at all, especially when falls result in the irreversibility of the human experience. In fact, at the beginning of chapter 3 we read, “there is nothing like death to make us celebrate life…”.

The narrator is tormented by a fixed idea, which drives the plot, in the streets of a Rio de Janeiro that has lost its majesty. It was the capital of Guanabara, it was no longer the Federal Capital. One character had studied at the old UEG (“which was in Catete and was free”). A certain nostalgia surrounds the narrative; the tram tracks were covered by asphalt (“trams… managed to survive until the end of the sixties (…) then they were sold as scrapyards for scrap”). Itamaraty's typewriters were heavy, they needed a carriage when they went to the workshops, they made noise. The new, electrical machines were in Brasília…

There is dinner at a certain Alvaro's restaurant. Could it be the Ataulfo ​​de Paiva classic, 500, which should still have the wooden door and dark walls? Can be. On the way to the dinner that defines the book, Gilda and the narrator observed the Leblon stores, “which paraded to their right along Ataulfo ​​de Paiva”.

The description of real urban environments proves that cities change and that memories remain. I imagine that, in a few years, the reader will need a map of Rio at the time of the narrative, exactly as today we read Quincas Borba with a previous topographical detail of Rio de Janeiro at the time of Rubião, Palha, Sofia, Camacho and D. Tonica: Largo da Carioca (which none of them would recognize), the streets of Rosário, Hospício, Ouvidor, and many others.

Machado de Assis would not recognize them either, exactly as Sérgio Rodrigues established in another impactful contemporary Brazilian novel, which is The future life. In that regard, A transparent woman, moreover, it is a city romance. There is (by the way) a scene on the sidewalk of Siqueira Campos, along with an attractive perspective from the author, in the sense that the streets of Lisbon have evocative names (Salitre, Prata, Arsenal, Moinho de Vento) while our streets have names of those who We don't know who it is, like Cupertino Durão Street, in Leblon. I discovered that he was a civil engineer, secretary of works and transport, during the time of Mayor Carlos Sampaio, whose term of office ran from 1920 to 1922. He is on the blue plaque.

A transparent woman mesmerizes the reader with moments of fine rain and thin fog. It seems that the intimacy of the characters cools the “heat of life”, in the indefinable meaning of Astrojildo Pereira. This tension, between the external heat of the street and the internal coldness of the characters, which the author inverts in the strongest moments of the book, is what enchants and, when reading the last sentence, makes the reader feel higher, millimeters before from the end point.

* Arnaldo Sampaio de Moraes Godoy is a lecturer in General Theory of the State at the Faculty of Law of the University of São Paulo (USP).He was General Consultant of the Union.


Edgard Telles Ribeiro. A transparent woman. São Paulo, However, 2018, 128 pages. [https://amzn.to/3SZVBie]

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