_ Beautiful


Musician, activist, playwright, poet and now novelist, Chico Buarque is staking Brazil’s claim to a place on the world’s literary stage. Carl Honoré applauds a memorable debut

Why are there no Brazilians among the modern

the Mexican poet Octavio Paz said, that Brazilians are less introspective? Or is it simply that Portuguese eludes the herds of translators who specialise in Spanish? Born in Rio in 1944,

down to timing. ‘Music was the language of my generation. We were always working with words but within a musical frame. If it had not been for

writers. Literature was our natural path.’

Thirty years on, Buarque is in Britain to promote his first novel, Turbulence. Behind him stretches the pedigree which had made him a household name in Brazil: avant-garde plays, film scripts, political exile, journalism, poetry, plus a heap of songs about love, Carnaval, and the common man. To everyone from the shantytown poor to greying intellectuals, he is ‘Chico’. Much lauded in Brazil, his novel represents a coming of age. ‘It was difficult, you know, a time for maturing. But now I wonder why I never wrote one before.’

titans of Latin American literature? Could it be, as

songwriter-turned-novelist Chico Buarque puts it

bossa nova in the early sixties, we would have been

Chico Buarque: “Literature was our natural path.’

Buarque is keen to place his novel outside the Marquez-led literary boom in Spanish-speaking Latin America. ‘We have a different language, culture and temperament. Magical realism isn’t so much our style.’ Like the vagabond characters that populate his oeuvre, Brazilian literature defies categories and glib labels. Even so, Brazil is

sufficiently South American for everyday events

to be as surreal and bizarre as anything Marquez might conjure, and Turbulence reads like a fitful dream.

From page one, the unnamed narrator straddles

;_ the shifting line between the real and the imagined. Following his thoughts, we learn he is a

drop-out from a well-heeled Rio family, drifting without purpose into the seamy underworld which nestles against the affluence enjoyed by his sister. Back and forth he sleepwalks, from opulent mansion to grimy trailer, from chic boutique to filthy bus station. With a kind of resigned

. bewilderment, people and events are encountered

as if for the first time. It is Buarque’s pace and knack for imagery that make the reader care about where the narrator is

, going and what he might discover there. Haunting images slip in and out of the story with ease: an old man masturbating; a dead passenger on a bus; a

strangled gym teacher; a suitcase full of

marijuana. With the past, present, future and conditional all jumbled together, there is no time - to be shocked or indignant: you just enjoy the ride.

Beautiful and violent, Rio is the perfect setting. Buarque taps the city’s creeping surrealism but stops short of writing a Rio novel. Refreshingly,

I 5' a, ; the book is more than a polemic. ‘It isn’t about

, denunciation. The social inequality is just a

natural part of the background.’ Indeed, the novel travels well precisely because it defies the dust jacket’s promise that the city ‘can only be Rio.’ During the solitary three months spent writing Turbulence, Buarque never once envisioned multiple translations and foreign tours. Carving a place alongside Spanish-speaking Latin-American writers is, he says, a ‘nice surprise’. Perhaps, three

, decades after fuelling a musical boom in his

homeland, Buarque might finally help to put Brazil on the literary world map. Turbulence is certainly a good beginning.

: Turbulence ispublished by Bloomsbury at £13. 99

l_ r 0n the attack 3

At a time when many British left-wing activists seem to be weariiy casting about for fresh sources of inspiration, a conversation with James Kelman feels like the mental equivalent oi a particularly bracing Scottish breeze. Speaking from the cramped, smoky offices of Clydeside Action on Asbestos, with whom he has been working for the past eighteen months, the intemationally-acclaimed author of Not, llot While the Giro, A Disaffection and others is too busy at the chalk-face : of real, grass-roots, political action to spare much sympathy for those

the anti-Tory majority.

‘When people make these kinds of statements, about how powerless we all are, you have to ask whether they’re actually looking at what’s happening under their noses,’ he says. ‘Of course

you can find out just by reading the various left-wing and radical papers,

James Kelman: ‘Art has to begin fromthe


bomlllng the supposed impotence of 1 things like Counter Inionnation, that 3 people all over Britain are out doing . things, protesting, empowering ; themselves through groups like this f one. You only have to look at what . governments are doing in terms of . lntemal security- the right is very - people are told they’re powerless, but I aware that people will always

I empowerthemseives, because they

can’t afford to neglect it.’

Kelman’s underlying arguments run j arguing that it is in the details, the

throughout Some Recent Attacks, his 3 particulars. that meaning and the i new book of essays: always question i the mainstream version of events, examine the premise of a statement

potential for change reside. It is this , approach which forms the core of his 3 belief in the indissoiuble links between

before answering the statement itself, l good art and a raised political

seek out the specifics of any issue if

, you want an accurate picture of what’s . really going on. ' ? Addressing a variety of subjects,

i consciousness - not necessarily active political involvement, and certainly not a party political line, but a breadth of vision informed by an appreciation of

including the Workers City-Culture City ' the forces influencing ordinary

controversies, the Rushdie affair, the

people’s lives.

' closure of Edinburgh’s Citizens’ Rights

; Office and the fight for just treatment of asbestos victims, the essays provide a

trenchant, often scathing analysis of

i the issues beneath the issues how the

literary-intellectual establishment

- demanding ‘freedom of speech’ for

Rushdie has been systematically denying that right to non-mainstream groups for centuries; how the sacking, through the CRO closure, of the leading Scottish specialist on race and

' immigration issues amounts to an i official denial that such issues exist on

a significant scale. in his politics and in his writing,

i Kelman emphasises attention to detail, j

‘Art has to begin from the particular,

from the person, not ‘people’ and to do

that you have to award that person full rights in being human, whether it’s a woman, a working-class white man, a black person - it doesn’t matter, that recognition has to be made. if art begins from that point then it has to be a revolutionary force, a dissident voice, because society is premised on something else altogether.’ (Sue Wilson)

Some Recent Attacks: Essays Cultural and Political is published by All Press (3 Baimoral Place, Stirling, FKB 2RD) at £4.50 (post paid if mail order).


The List 2i) November 3 Deeember 19‘): 71