Current Content Downloads: Studies in the Reliability of New World Lusophone First-Person Narrators

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Violão by Torres, a local luthier. If I had to save anything from a house fire, that and the Linux-powered laptop would top the list.

Between projects at the moment, I had a chance yesterday to do some sebo– (secondhand bookstore) diving yesterday here in São Paulo, acquiring some new bedside-table reading material in the process.

Mario Sergio Conti’s Noticias do Planalto: A Imprensa e Fernando Collor (“News from the Federal District: The Press and President Collor”) is a wild Dickensian romp by a former editor of Veja magazine.

A book whose reputation precedes it: A number of the journalists whose names appear in the index at the back question the factual accuracy of statements made about their professional activities in the book.

The book reports, for example, that when Veja founder Mino Carta was editor of IstoÉ (and the failed Jornal da República), he and the magazine supported Orestes Quercia for governor of São Paulo and were rewarded, when Quercia was elected, with advertising contracts from state-owned firms and private-sector fat-cat political allies on the man with the truck-driver sideburns.

Which Mr. Carta has hotly denied on a number of occasions, I think.

The preface acknowledges Diogo Mainardi as having rendered invaluable assistance to the author, which may explain a few things. See also

One of the most notable features of the book: The wealth of intimate, firsthand detail — details only an eyewitness with a prodigious memory could provide — and not a single sourcing statement, much less a footnote.

Also on the shelf in the sebo where I found the book: A collection of essays by Paulo Francis with (an inane) preface by Mainardi. On whom see also

Still, the Collor era is a primal scene of unspeakable trauma for Brazilians of my wife’s generation, and one that I have needed to try to understand better.

To the extent that any of it is comprehensible.

Walter Salles’ great Terra Estrangeira, for example, begins with that epoch-making moment in which Minister Zélia Cardoso de Mello (not related to Collor de Mello or Marco Aúrelio Mello or President Cardoso) announced that the federal government was seizing everyone’s savings, but would be giving them right back, not to worry.

They did not give everyone their savings right back.

Thus began “the lost decade.” And a half or so.

It is fascinating to read how Collor’s father, who parlayed ownership of the Gazeta de Alagoas newspaper into the governship of the state under the banner of the old UDN in the 1950s, once got into a gunfight on the floor of the federal Senate and wound up killing an innocent bystander, a fellow federal senator, during the melee.

Opening fire from the speaker’s rostrum.

Collor the Elder got off scot-free. Legitimate self-defense.

After getting into a gunfight on the floor of the federal senate.

(His son, after being impeached from the federal presidency he won on a broom-of-reform platform of “hunting down the marajás” [the “maharajahs” of the permanent state bureaucracy], is now a junior senator from Alagoas as well.)
Kurt Rudolf Mirow’s The Dictatorship of the Cartels: Anatomy of a Case of Underdevelopment is the work of “a man without ideological or partisan commitments” who rails against the multinational cartel, led by General Electric, that he says set out to destroy his company, Codima S.A.

The book was published in 1978 by the Editora Civilização Brasileira — Volume 102 in its “Portraits of Brasil” collection. An English-language revised edition came out in 1982 and was briefly noted in Foreign Affairs:

A Brazilian manufacturer of electrical equipment who suffered from a cartel of foreign firms in his country has joined with an American writer to produce a balanced summary of the history of cartels in oil, uranium, steel, fibers, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, and shipping, as well as electrical transformers and other items. They show that the cartel movement is not a thing of the past and are prudently pessimistic about the chances of checking it through international action.

1954: A Bullet to the Heart, about the (similarly melodramatic and firearm-related) end of the Vargas era, is a relatively inexpensive LP&M pocket edition — this is what passes for the Penguin Classics around here, and more power to it, too, even if Penguin never considered Charles Bukowski a canonical author — of what everyone tells me is a part of a classic series on Brazilian history by Hélio Silva.

If my father-in-law, a card-carrying member of the OAB since the 1960s, says it is a must-read, well, then I must read it. I am a dutiful student.

Not shown: Memorias de Um Trader by Roberto Giannetti da Fonseca, a former special secretary to President Cardoso on foreign trade promotion.

Brought out by Thomson-IOB in 2002.

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Fonseca describes how he started a “pioneering” — if he does say so himself — vending machine business in São Paulo (in the Vila Olimpia) at the age of 19 and nearly died in the process, in a hotel fire at the Hotel New Yorker (I know the bar there very, very well) near Madison Square Garden on his first business trip.

Engagingly narrated. I have just started reading it.

If you liked Tristram Shandy, you will enjoy reading Brazilian memoirs. The standard Brazilian first-person (ostensibly nonfictional) narrator is a sort of Lusophone tropical Irish raconteur, I tend to find.

Which is why memoirs have become preferred reading for me these days. They make a nice companion to Willi Bolle’s, which has quite a bit to do with the theory and practice of unreliable narration.


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