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I Didn't Talk

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3.57  ·  Rating details ·  82 ratings  ·  12 reviews
A professor prepares to retire—Gustavo is set to move from Sao Paulo to the countryside, but it isn’t the urban violence he’s fleeing: what he fears most is the violence of his memory. But as he sorts out his papers, the ghosts arrive in full force. He was arrested in 1970 with his brother-in-law Armando: both were vicariously tortured. He was eventually released; Armando ...more
Paperback, 160 pages
Published July 31st 2018 by New Directions (first published January 1st 2004)
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Average rating 3.57  · 
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Paul Fulcher
Dec 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
Look, I was tortured, and they say I snitched on a comrade who was later killed by soldiers’ bullets. I didn’t snitch — I almost died in the room where I could have snitched, but I didn’t talk. They said I talked and Armando died, I was released two days after his death and they let me stay on as the school principal.
 
Beatriz Bracher's Não Falei was published in Brazil in 2004 on the 40th anniversary of the 'Golpe de 64' (Look, I was tortured, and they say I snitched on a comrade who was later killed by soldiers’ bullets. I didn’t snitch — I almost died in the room where I could have snitched, but I didn’t talk. They said I talked and Armando died, I was released two days after his death and they let me stay on as the school principal.
 
Beatriz Bracher's Não Falei was published in Brazil in 2004 on the 40th anniversary of the 'Golpe de 64' (
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1964_Br...), the US backed military coup that overthrew the democratic government and ushered in two decades of dictatorship.

As 'I didn't talk', it has been brought to us in English translation in 2018, by Adam Morris and New Directions Press.
 
The novel is also set in 2004 and narrated by Gustavo, now 64 and looking back on an incident from 1970. Peripherally involved with the resistance movement to the dictatorship he was arrested and tortured. Subsquently his childhood best friend Armando, also his brother-in-law, who was active in the armed resistance, was arrested and shot, while Gustavo was later released without charge. Gustavo's wife Eliana, Armando's brother, died soon afterwards in exile in Paris, from pneumonia, and (from grief?), leaving Gustavo to bring up their daughter alone.

Gustavo is haunted by the suspiscion that, under torture, he betrayed Armando, something he refutes. As the novel opens he has just retired from his job as an educator, and preparing to move out of the family home. As he prepares to leave and packs, memories are triggered and he feels inclined to tell his story - indeed he is urged to by Cecilia a young aspiring novelist who wants to use his experiences for a novel based on the early days of the resistance. Except such a simple thing isn't really possible.

If it's possible to have a thought without a word or an image, without time and space - complete, created by me, a revelation of what remains hidden in me (and from me) but suddenly appears, if it could be born so clearly for all to see, without origin, without any effort of breath, of tone of voice, of rhythm or hesitation, without vision even, emerging like a normal thought, or more than a thought; a thing - if such a thing could exist, then I'd like to tell a story.

Instead, what we get in this slim but dense 150 page novel is a much more fractured tale. His thoughts are interspersed with other sources - his notes on his theories of pedagogy, diaries of his sister, recollections of his parents, literary passages and a semi-autobiographical novel written by his elder brother Jose, one where Jose unashamedly mimics other authors notably Machado de Assis

He wrote of reminiscing and I think of creating; he wrote of discovering and I need to be establishing. ... His Machadian tone — which José cultivates in a way that borders on plagiarism yet somehow remains, paradoxically, his own — revived my happiness in the same way that, when absorbed in some specific and complex composition, we’re surprised by the sound of birdsong.
[...]
“This is what happens to me, as I go about remembering and shaping the construction or reconstruction of myself” (Machado, as written by Jose)
 
"As I go about remembering", what a beautiful thing. I need to reread Machado, retrieve the unexpected things I no longer remember. Unlike José, who tries like Dom Casmurro to construct a past that will be kind to him in the present, I look for my errors, I kick stones and send the cockroaches running, I walk through spiderwebs that spread across my face and ask every smug milestone I’ve passed, What purpose do you serve in my life? Did you manage to hold firm, emit light, make noise, serve at least as a pillar to sustain the person who made you, or are you already so spoiled by applause that the flick of a finger could send you tumbling over a cliff into the calm and muddy river of the satisfied?

 
Machado's Dom Casmurro with its subjective and distrusting narrator also serves as a model here - except here the suspiscions of Gustavo are trained on himself.

Language plays a key role in both Gustavo's life and theories as an educator but also the novel:

I was always favorable to the presence, in every classroom, of a Portuguese dictionary, an etymological dictionary, a Latin dictionary, a Greek dictionary, a common grammar, and a dictionary of verb and prepositional correspondences. And not in some corner of the room, but on my desk, to be handled at all times, without formality.
[...]
The old play on words—traduttore, traditore—takes its meaning not merely from the phonetic similarity between the two words, or the deeper meaning it gives to the act of translation. The similarity is simple and it’s right there in the root of the words, both of which refer to act of passing from one side to another. We know that this going–over is never innocent and that nothing that crosses over can ever come back unharmed.

 
Etymology is particularly important and tribute here must be paid to Morris's excellent translation, smoothly discussing the Portuguese language in English.

I did have one minor gripe here though. 1970 was also the year of Brazil's 3rd and most famous World Cup win and football - both the Brazilian national team and Pele's Santos - feature throughout. But this was the least convincing part of the novel - I never really believed the narrator actually followed football - and I suspect the, otherwise excellent, translation was responsible. A female friend who “never got to the point of understanding the championship brackets, or keeping up with the scuttlebutt”, games analysed as “a sequence of plays” and fans “rattling off the entire roster” might work when describing basketball or American football but sounds unconvincing applied to football (as indeed does the term soccer).

There is a lot in the book on education. One excellent passage talks about how academic disciplines embed their past histories and disputes in their language:

Every discipline has its own specific procedures, creating according to its needs. And I'm not referring to the theoretical bias of a particular school, but to the slice of reality that each branch of knowledge sets out to create. This slice obliges us to use a certain language, to establish its names and necessary procedures so that through it we can get closer. There's already a story in motion, its false starts and deviations the results of ancient battles that today are meaningless, but language continues to carry the names we are in fact obliged to use if we wish to have our thoughts included in the common chain.

I wasn't trained for any special chain, I was never part of any of the organisations, and I had to guess at the correct knowledge.


except, neatly, the last part - the lack of training he refers to - links back to the novel's main subject matter. As a peripheral figure Gustavo had not been trained, unlike Armando, for what to do and say under torture (he later finds the keys include: giving up credible information but which you know is already known by the torturers; naming those who aren't really involved - like Gustavo himself; and disassembling and resisting long enough - 3-4 days- for the key figures to go into hiding).

But spotting this link was the exception not the rule for me. In his review by GR friend enricocioni (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) comments that he had to re-read carefully to follow the threads, and still feels he needs another read to figure it all out. I've yet to do that and at times, as Gustavo remarks about watching others getting emotional, we see and feel the heat of combustion but are not a part of it.   

Towards the end of his musing Gustavo realises: Maybe no one has ever considered me a traitor except myself. 

An excellent review (H/T again to enricocioni)
https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/r...
 
And an interview with the translator:
https://www.asymptotejournal.com/blog...
 
3.5 stars - rounded down to 3, although that reflects my reading experience more than what is clearly an impressive book (and the dodgy 'soccerball').
 
----------------------------------------------------------------
Appendix: Asymptote Book Club

The book first came to my attention via the excellent Asymptote Book Club (https://www.asymptotejournal.com/book...), which I would highly recommend: the Asymptote Journal team select a piece of world literature each month from some of the leading independent presses in Canada, the US, and the UK.

Their review/introduction to this novel:
https://www.asymptotejournal.com/blog...

And the list of books to date:

13. The Barefoot Woman by Scholastique Mukasonga, tr. Jordan Stump, published by Archipelago Books
(my review https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...)
12. Hotel Tito, by Ivana Simić Bodrožić, tr. Ellen Elias-Bursać, published by Seven Stories Press
(my review https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...)
11. Oct-18 Like a Sword Wound by Ahmet Altan tr. Brendan Freely and Yelda Türedi, published by Seven Stories
(my review https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...)
10. Sep-18 Moving Parts by Prabda Yoon, tr. Mui Poopoksakul , published by Tilted Axis Press
(my review https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...)
9. Aug-18 Revenge of the Translator by Brice Matthieussen, tr. Emma Ramadan, published by Deep Vellum
8. Jul-18 I Didn't Talk by Beatriz Bracher, tr. Adam Morris. published by New Directions
(my review https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...)
7. Jun-18 The Tidings of the Trees by Wolfgang Hilbig, tr. Isabel Fargo Cole, published by Two Lines Press
(my review https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...)
6. May-18 The Chilli Bean Paste Clan by Yan Ge, tr. Nicky Harmon, published by Balestier Press
5. Apr-18 Brother in Ice by Alicia Kopf, tr. Mara Faye Letham, published by And Other Stories
4. Mar-18 Trick by Dominico Starnone tr. Jhumpa Lahiri, published by Europa Editions
3. Feb-18 Love by Hanne Ørstavik, tr. Martin Aitken, published by Archipelago Books
2. Jan-18 Aranyak: Of the Forest by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, tr. Rimli Bhattacharya, published by Seagull Books
1. Dec-17 The Lime Tree by César Aira, tr. Chris Andrews, published by And Other Stories
...more
enricocioni
Aug 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
It took me a long time to finish this one! It's 150 pages of stream of consciousness, and rich in complex ideas about memory and family and education and language and who knows what else, so it requires a degree of focus that I was only able to give it the last two days, re-reading the parts I'd managed to read over the past three weeks, then finishing it, this time armed with a pencil to underline key information and ideas, as a kind of anchor. And even now, I feel like I need to read it at lea ...more
Marie-Therese
4.5 stars

Really compelling, beautifully structured book that is dense with rich, chewy ideas and restrained but poignant emotion. I can't really do justice to it right now but suffice to say that this book should have won the 2018 National Book Award for Translation as it was light years better than anything that made the short list.
May
Feb 17, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I finally finished this book, you don't know how happy this makes me.
Justin Evans
Oct 08, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
I wanted to like this more than I did, and perhaps a second read in a few years will set me right, but I found it far too unfocused. That's a shame, because otherwise it's everything I like: a bit of philosophy here, a bit of depressing history there, a boatload of moral conundrum and impossibility. But I think it needed to either be three times as long, or to lose a few of the many, many threads, which I, at least, found no way of tying together.
Vanessa Machado
Sep 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Eu ainda estou abalada com esse livro. Ele é muito muito forte. A Beatriz Bracher é uma das minhas autoras preferidas e escreveu "Não falei" com tanta honestidade que as páginas são capazes de cortar a pele. A história é envolvente e traz um olhar sobre um período histórico triste para o Brasil. Leitura obrigatória nos tempos atuais.
Anna
Oct 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Slim, but powerful. A stunning reflection on how politics seep into the personal, how every member of a given society, no matter his/her own opinions, is affected by those who resist, by those who actively support the regime, and also, by those who are indifferent.
Laurel
Mar 12, 2019 rated it liked it
There's no chapters! This book feels like a conversation.
Rafaela Kino
Jul 12, 2019 rated it did not like it
unfocused
Debbie
Nov 09, 2018 rated it it was ok
As I was reading this book, I would almost grasp it, and then I found the author went off on a different tack. Maybe, I'm not a fan of meandering books that dwell on unpleasantness and darkness.
Paul Kerschen
Aug 23, 2018 added it
Shelves: 2018
I thought the big reveal was going to be that he did talk, but the whole thing is much subtler than that: bravo.
Chris
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Mike
Dec 20, 2018 added it
I'm not rating this one. It was read at a busy time and rather piecemeal. I intend to try again later.
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Beatriz Bracher é uma escritora e roteirista brasileira.

Foi uma das fundadoras da Editora 34, na qual trabalhou de 1992 até 2000. Também editou a revista 34 Letras, especializada em literatura e filosofia, entre os anos de 1988 e 1991.

Escreveu o argumento do filme Cronicamente Inviável (2000) e os roteiros de Os Inquilinos (2009, prêmio de melhor roteiro no Festival do Rio)
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“If it’s possible to have a thought without a word or an image, without time and space—complete, created by me, a revelation of what remains hidden in me (and from me) but suddenly appears, if it could be born so clearly for all to see, without origin, without any effort of breath, of tone of voice, of rhythm or hesitation, without vision even, emerging like a normal thought, or more than a thought: a thing—if such a thing could exist, then I’d like to tell a story.” 1 likes
“It takes all the strength of my spirit to transform my executioners into animals, not to leave the slightest opening, to discuss nothing, not even Pelé . Which is impossible, I never met anyone who couldn’t. And that is how along with fear, shame takes its hold.” 0 likes
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