Nathaniel's Reviews > Zero

Zero by Ignácio de Loyola Brandão
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Sep 06, 07

Read in October, 2007

After grunting through over three hundred pages of Brandao's prose, I still skimmed the final pages. It is immediately apparent when Brandao thinks that he is on a role: he loses any sort of content filter (did he even have an editor?), balloons his paragraphs and rants, lists, shouts, spews nonsense and seems to feel proud of the result. He wants to be a more politicized and tragic Latin American James Joyce; but he ends up being more like a foul-mouthed, sensational and disorganized Alfred Doblin (of "Berlin Alexanderplatz" notoriety).

I would not have finished this book if I hadn't accidentally started two long train rains without other reading material--and if there hadn't been so much sex, violence and repression. In between steam-rolling sections of mediocre, under-planned, contradictory and unrewarding narrative, there are all sorts of choke-start interruptive paragraphs under recurring headlines like "Free Association" or "Affective Memory." There aren't any dimensional characters in the book and none of the people are really capable of absorbing or relating to their environment: increasingly repulsive and repressive urban Brazil. In fact, Jose, the closest thing to a protagonist, is a bit like Sean of the Dead (without humor or an actual relationship). He is a purposeless slob immersed in sickening violence.

Why does Brandao think it is okay to write, "Don't know why, but it's true, my heart beats when i see you, parala-la, parala-lay, tooky teeky tooky tootooky, gorogogo gorogoga, elephant stampedes a great many people, two elephants stampede a great many more, oooooo bah tatatatatatatata, oh juicy, juicy festival of striptease."?

And why are there dozens of sadistic, pages floundering around in material of this variety, "Whap, whap. Plaft, pleft, shit, he's hit in the mouth, all his teeth are knocked out, his nails pulled out one by one, he's been burned, they've drilled a hole in one eye, thrown acid in the other, stuffed a rat in his mouth, razor slashes and briny water, wires stuck in his asshole, shocks tear him all apart, smash his fingers, his cock, jab him in the stomach, make him eat shit . . . "?

Seriously, who is the author trying to punish with that sort of prose? Both of these excerpts are representative. Neither of them is part of a key plot moment or even about a recognizable moment in the narrative of any main character. They are just outbursts. The most charitable interpretation that I can offer is that Brandao hated almost everyone in Brazil (whether perpetrators of repression or complacent accomplices) and he wanted his book to be a venom-spitting affront to everything that they held sacred or thought pleasant.

I'm sure it was a groundbreaking book for it's time and location. I'm sure it posed a sort of challenge to a now defunct establishment and it might be rewarding to read it within the context of Brazilian history and literature. But in order to stand on its own as a book for the casual reader sixty years later and thousands of miles away, it needs more craft, cleaner narrative, less repetition and more imagination. I have no idea why E. L. Doctorow thinks it is so fantastic.
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message 1: by Eder (last edited Sep 20, 2012 03:01PM) (new)

Eder Dear Reviewer,

Why does Brandão thinks is OK to write "parala-la, parala-lay, tooky teeky tooky”? Because during the Regime people were forbidden by the Dictator to write things that made sense and it bothered students and intellectuals. Brandão wants to show that the dictator and his soldiers were idiots who wanted people to be ignorant of the abuses commited by the soldiers.

Why does Brandão write sadistic pages? Because students and intellectuals were tortured with rats and shocks in the ass and they were also not allowed to talk about it. This is not fiction. This actually happened.

Even today many Brazilians cry when they remember being tortured by soldiers of the regime, who put rats and cockroaches inside the vaginas of many women.

With this in mind, I hope you can think differently about one of the most respected novels of Brazilian 20th Century literature.

Master in Literary Studies
Londrina State University

Nathaniel Thanks Eder,

My last paragraph more or less anticipates your comment. I make aesthetic judgments about works of literature because literature is a form of art and the "science" of aesthetics is designed for judging works of art--on their own, out of context.

I can see that the book has great meaning within its political and historical context and I'm sure that students of that context will discover the book and find that it advances their understanding of a certain response to a certain set of real life horrors.

But that's not why many people read books. I am warning people about the artistic flaws of this book just like a consular office might have warned them about visiting Brazil during its darker periods.

I work actively in development, education and human rights. I despise violent governments and I celebrate the humans who oppose them. But I won't go easy on their books because I find them politically sympathetic.

Let me give you an example, if an individual human being is locked up and tortured and psychologically abused for much of his life and later emerges to write a harrowing, traumatized account of that torture and abuse, I will not be persuaded by his tragic personal history to judge his contribution to world literature by different standards.

Does that make sense?

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