(My translation of the short story A Nova Califórnia, which was written in 1910 and first published in 1915)
No-one knew where he’d come from. All the postman knew was that the letters were sent to him under the name Raimundo Flamel. And there were a lot of letters! Almost every day the postman had to carry a great bundle of them from all over the world, thick journals in obscure languages, books and packets out to the very edge of the town, where the mystery man lived.
So, not surprisingly, when Fabrício, a black man who was the local builder, was summoned to the newcomer’s house about some work that needed doing, everyone in the store wanted to know what it was. “He wants me to build an oven in his dining room,” said Fabrício.
Imagine the surprise of the little town’s inhabitants: an oven in the dining room!
In the following days, Fabrício was able to tell them about the delivery of glass bowls, blunt knives, crucibles – a whole list of things which, when placed on the tables and shelves, made the place look like the Devil’s own kitchen. And that caused quite some apprehension in the town. The more enlightened deduced that the newcomer was a coin forger; the less enlightened, that he was in league with Satan. When Chico da Tirana, the carter, was walking along, beside his creaking cart, by the mystery man’s house, he couldn’t help making the sign of the cross and muttering an “I believe”; and it was thanks only to the apothecary’s efforts that the mayor was dissuaded from ordering a siege of the house – the house that had caused such disquiet among the townsfolk.
Jerônimo Bastos, the apothecary, was alone in deducing from Fabrício’s information that the mystery man was most likely an éminence grise, a great chemist, who had taken refuge in that remote part of the world in order to be able to carry out his scientific studies in peace and quiet. Bastos himself was well-respected in the town: he was a qualified doctor but, because he didn’t like writing prescriptions, he’d become a partner at the apothecary’s to make life easier; and he was also a town councillor.
So Jerônimo’s opinion on the matter eventually calmed the fevered speculation, and people even began to feel quietly proud that such a great chemist had come to live in their town. If they happened to meet him on one of his evening walks around the outskirts – on which he’d take a seat here and there and gaze at the pellucid waters of the brook, or would seem to be lost in crepuscular melancholy – the townsmen would take their hats off to him, and would not infrequently add “Doctor” to “Good evening.”
And it particularly softened people’s hearts when they saw the deep sympathy he had for children: when he looked at them his eyes seemed full of pain at the thought that they’d been born only to suffer and die. Indeed, in the mellow light of evening he seemed like Jesus in his kindness to the children, whether the black children, with their smooth skin and air of sadness, trapped as they were in the swamp of slavery, or the white children, with their unhealthy skin – broken and rough through constant exposure to the malevolent tropical climate. It seemed as if he were wondering why Bernardin de Saint-Pierre had wasted so much sympathy on Paul and Virginie and forgotten about the slaves round about them.
Thus the initial apprehension soon turned into almost general admiration. Almost, because there was still one person who didn’t think much of the newcomer. Captain Pelino, the school master and editor of the Tubiacanga Gazette – which was affiliated to the government party – could be heard expressing sceptical opinions about the éminence grise in their midst.
“Mark my words,” he’d say. “You’ll be sorry when you find out your mistake. He’s a swindler, a chancer… He might even be a bandit on the run from Rio.”
This opinion wasn’t based on anything at all, or rather, it was based on Pelino’s hidden resentment at suddenly having a rival to his own status as local éminence grise. Not that Pelino was a chemist or anything like that; but he was clever and he knew a thing or two about grammar. Nobody could write anything in Tubiacanga without Pelino picking it to bits; and even when there was mention of famous men in Rio he couldn’t resist saying:
“Yes, he’s talented, I’ll give you that. But he writes ‘owing to,’ when it should be ‘due to,’ he starts paragraphs with ‘And’ and ‘But,’ he has paragraphs with only one sentence, and…”
And he’d purse his lips as if he’d just swallowed something unpleasant.
But the whole town of Tubiacanga had respect for the grave and solemn Pelino, given that he could find grammatical mistakes even amongst the country’s most famous authors.
In the evenings, after he’d read a little of Sotero, Candido de Figueiredo or Castro Lopes, and after he’d added some more dye to his hair, he’d saunter out of his house in his Mineiran jacket, with all the buttons done up, and head for the apothecary’s for a bit of chat – although “chat” is not exactly the right word, because he much preferred listening to speaking. It was just that, whenever the smallest linguistic infelicity escaped from a speaker’s lips, he’d immediately call things to order.
For instance the postman might be saying, “We ensured him that…,” and, lo and behold!, with evangelical dedication to the cause, Pelino would interject, “What you’re trying to say, Senhor Bernardes, is ‘assured,’ not ‘ensured.” And the conversation would limp on until the next correction.
As a result there were many would-be conversationalists who preferred to keep their distance, but Pelino, undeterred, persevered in his work as the Apostle of Good Grammar – until, that is, the arrival of the mystery man distracted him somewhat from his mission. All his efforts were now turned towards combatting this rival, who had appeared on the scene so unexpectedly. But Pelino’s eloquent denunciations were in vain: not only did Raimundo Flamel pay his bills on time, he was also generous – a father to the poor – and the apothecary had seen mention of him, in a trade magazine, as a notable chemist.
The chemist had been living in Tubiacanga for some years when, one fine morning, Bastos was surprised and delighted to see him enter his apothecary’s shop. Up until that day, the great man hadn’t deigned to pay anybody a visit and, when Orestes, the sacristan, had once dared to entered his house to request a donation for the forthcoming feast of the Immaculate Conception, he’d had a distinctly frosty reception.
So, as soon as Bastos saw him, he hurried out from behind the counter to greet him in a way that would make it perfectly clear how honoured he was by the visit and, in the most grandiloquent voice he could manage, he declared, “You’re most welcome, Doctor.” But the éminence grise appeared surprised neither by the apothecary’s demonstration of respect, nor by the title of Doctor. Instead, he looked around for a moment at the shelves full of medications and said, “I’d like word with you in private, Senhor Bastos.”
The apothecary was amazed. How could he possibly be of use to a man who was known throughout the world and of whom the learned journals spoke with such awe? Could it be money? Perhaps he’d fallen behind with his rent. Who knows?
As Bastos led the chemist towards the back rooms of the store, his apprentice looked on in surprise, letting the pestle rest in the mortar where he’d been grinding some herbal concoction or other.
Bastos eventually led his guest into a little room at the very back that he used for lengthier medical examinations or for the little operations that he did from time to time. No sooner had they sat down than Flamel started speaking:
“As you probably know, I’m a chemist and am well respected among fellow scientists.”
“I’m well aware of it, Doctor,” replied Bastos, “and I’ve made my friends aware of it as well.”
“Thank you. Well, I’ve made a great, an extraordinary, discovery…”
Embarrassed by his own enthusiasm, the éminence grise paused for a moment.
“…a discovery, but I’m not yet in a position to divulge it to my scientific colleagues, if you understand.”
“For that reason I need three competent people to formally witness a demonstration of it, so that I can patent my invention… You understand, unforeseen things can happen and…”
“Oh! Certainly. Without a doubt.”
“You need to know that it has to do with making gold…”
“What? How?” said Bastos, his eyes almost popping out of his head.
“Yes! Gold!” Flamel replied decisively.
“You’ll find out,” the chemist said drily. “The immediate question – I’m sure you’ll agree – is who the three witnesses should be.”
“Yes, of course. We need to make sure your rights are protected, and therefore…”
“One of them,” the éminence grise interrupted, “will be you. And you’ll do me the favour, Senhor Bastos, of selecting the other two yourself.”
The apothecary was lost in thought for about three minutes as he passed all his acquaintances in review. Finally he asked:
“Will Colonel Bentes do? Do you know him?”
“No, I don’t. You’re probably aware that I’m not really acquainted with anyone in the town.”
“I can guarantee that Bentes is not only rich, but he’s also a serious fellow, and discreet.”
“Is he religious?” Flamel asked briskly. “The reason I ask is that it has to do with bones from corpses. Nothing else will do.”
“Religious? Good heavens no! He’s practically an atheist.”
“Good. Bentes will be the second. And who will be the third?”
Bastos immersed himself in thought once more, and this time he took a little longer as he consulted his memory. Eventually he said:
“Lieutenant Carvalhais, the tax collector. Do you know him?”
“As I said before…”
“So you did… He’s reliable and he’s also a serious chap, but…”
“He’s a freemason.”
“And when will it take place?”
“On Sunday. On Sunday the three of you will come to my house to witness the demonstration and I hope you’ll all lend your signatures to authenticate its veracity.”
“Say no more.”
So, on Sunday, as promised, those three respectable residents of Tubiacanga went to Flamel’s house and, some days later, he disappeared, without trace or explanation.
Tubiacanga was a small town of three or four thousand inhabitants. It was a very quiet place, even though the express trains deigned to stop at its station once in a while. There had been no reports of thefts or burglaries for five years, and the only reason the houses had doors and windows was… because they had them in Rio. And the only entry in the town’s little criminal register in recent years was a murder during the municipal elections; but, because the murderer was a member of the government party, and his victim was of the opposition, the event in no way altered the town’s habits: it continued exporting its coffee beans, and its low, unassuming houses continued to be reflected in the meagre waters of the little river that had given it its name.
So it was with stunned incomprehension that, all of a sudden, the town found itself the scene of one of the most horrible crimes imaginable. Not a lynching or a parricide, not the murder of an entire family or an attack on the revenue office. It was something much worse, a sacrilege in the eyes of any religion and any conscience: the graves in the town’s “Sossego Graveyard” – in that holy ground – had been violated.
At first the gravedigger thought it must have been dogs, but all he could find were small holes when he inspected the wall. And, even after he’d filled those up, the desecration continued. On the very next day a tomb was smashed and the bones stolen; and the day after that, a marked and an unmarked grave. It was either people or the devil.
This was beyond anything the gravedigger could cope with, so he reported it to the mayor, after which the news quickly spread through the town. The outrage was, understandably, immense. The Religion of Death is the top religion and it will certainly be the last one to die out. The Presbyterians – or the bible-bashers as they’re more commonly called – condemned this profanation; it was condemned by the former cadet Agrimensol Nicolau, who was a religious positivist of the Teixeira Mendes variety; it was condemned by Major Camanho, who was president of the New Hope Lodge; it was condemned by the Turk Miguel Abudala, the haberdasher, and by the one-time student Belmiro, who was a sceptic and took each day as it came, drinking cachaça in the pubs. Even the daughter of the resident railway engineer, the beautiful and aloof Cora, who couldn’t stand the place, who wouldn’t demean herself by noticing the impassioned looks of the local youths, and who was forever hoping that the next express would bring a prince who would carry her away and make her his princess, even she could not help but share the indignation and horror that the crime had provoked in all the townsfolk. Which was remarkable, because what had she to do with the graves of old slaves and country bumpkins? How could the destiny of such common bones possibly interest her beautiful dark eyes? And why should their theft disturb her dream of being the centre of attention on the pavements in Rio? No, there was no reason.
But it was Death, the Implacable and the Omnipotent, to whom even she realised she was enslaved and who, one day, would carry off even her beautiful skeleton to the eternal peace of the graveyard. And, that being so, she really wanted her bones, after the worms had had the pleasure of her flesh, to lie quietly, peacefully and comfortably in a well-made coffin beneath a well-built tomb…
But the person who outdid all the others in outrage was Pelino. The schoolmaster wrote an editorial in the following fulminating style:
“Never, in the history of crime, even though that history is replete with repugnant facts, e.g.: the hanging, drawing and quartering of Maria de Macedo, the death by strangling of the Fuoco brothers, never has there been a crime to compare with that of the Sossego grave robbery…”
So the town was at sixes and sevens. Worry was etched on every face, business paralysed, courtship suspended. For days without end black clouds hung over the houses and, at night, everyone could hear supernatural noises, murmurings and groans. It seemed as if the dead were pleading for vengeance…
But the robberies continued. Every night, two or three graves were opened and emptied of their funereal contents, as a result of which the townsfolk decided to go there en masse to guard the bones of their loved ones. It didn’t take long, however, for tiredness and sleep to take a toll: first one person took himself off, then another until, by dawn, not one vigilante remained. Thus, even on that night, the gravedigger found that two graves had been opened and the bones whisked away.
So they organised special guards: ten doughty men took an oath before the mayor that they’d guard the mansion of the dead during the night. On the first night nothing unusual occurred, nor on the second, nor on the third; but, on the fourth, when the guards were already beginning to doze, one of them thought he’d caught sight of a figure slipping between the gravestones.
The guards immediately made chase and they managed to catch two of the vampires. Their pent-up fury was such that they could no longer contain themselves and they gave the macabre thieves such a beating that they left them more dead than alive.
The news of the capture spread like wild fire and it was in front of the whole population that, in the morning, the villains’ identities came to be revealed: Tax Collector Carvalhais and Colonel Bentes, a rich farmer and president of the Assembly. The latter was still alive and, under repeated questioning, he said he’d taken the bones to turn them into gold. And not only that: he said he’d had a third accomplice – the apothecary.
The effect of this revelation was electric. How could gold be made out of bones? Surely it wasn’t possible! But how would that rich and well-respected man have turned into a grave robber, were it not true?
And if it was true, if those miserable human remains could be turned into something so valuable, how could that possibly not be a good thing for everyone! The postman, who had long dreamt of sending his daughter to university, immediately saw a way of making his dream come true. Castrioto, the court clerk, who had managed to buy a house the previous year, but hadn’t been able to put a wall around his garden and his animals, now saw a way of doing so. Marques, the smallholder, who’d been wanting for years to get hold of a decent piece of land, was thinking of Costa’s meadow, where his oxen would wax fat and strong…
Dead bones that could turn into gold would more than meet the needs of every single one of them. And it didn’t take long before that crowd of two or three thousand men, women and children were running pell-mell, as if they were one person, to the apothecary’s house. It was all the mayor could do to stop them ransacking the place and to make them wait outside in the square, waiting for the man who possessed the secret of this new Potosí.
That man didn’t take long to appear. Climbing on to a chair at the front of his store – a little bar of gold glinting in his hand –, Bastos begged for mercy and promised he’d tell them the secret, if only they’d spare his life.
“We want to know it now!” they shouted.
So he told them he’d have to copy out the formula, with the reagents, and specify the stages; it would take him a long time and he wouldn’t be able to hand it to them until the following day. At this there was an ominous muttering in the crowd, and some of them began shouting; but the mayor said he’d take it upon himself to ensure that Bastos kept his word. That did the trick, and everyone – with that peculiar meekness that can sometimes take hold of furious crowds – headed for home, with just one thought in their heads: how to get hold of as many bones of the deceased as possible.
In the meantime the news had even reached the house of the resident railway engineer. There was conversation about nothing else at the dinner table. After concatenating in his head a few things he remembered from his university course, the engineer declared it impossible: it was just alchemy, a defunct science; gold is gold, a single substance, and bone is bone, a compound mainly comprising calcium phosphate. To think you could make one thing out of another was “bonkers”.
Cora took the opportunity to laugh, in a metropolitan way, at the primitiveness and cruelty of these backwoodsmen, but her mother, Dona Emília, was inclined to think it might be true.
Nevertheless, when, at night, the engineer perceived that his wife was asleep, he jumped out of the window and ran off in the direction of the graveyard. Cora, in her bare feet, and holding her slippers in her hands, went to look for the maid, to get her to accompany her to the bone harvest; but, as she couldn’t find her, she went on her own. Meanwhile, Dona Emília had woken up and, finding herself alone, guessed what had happened and headed off in the same direction.
And this happened throughout the whole town: without saying anything to his son, the father left; hoping to fool her husband, the wife left; sons, daughters, servants – the whole population ran, under the dreamlike light of the stars, to their satanic rendezvous at the Sossego. And no-one was missing: the richest and the poorest were there; the Turk Miguel was there, as was Pelino, the schoolmaster, and Dr Jerônimo, and Major Camanho, and Cora – the stunningly beautiful Cora, whose lovely alabasterine fingers were even now digging away at the dirt of the graves, pulling away the rotting flesh that still clung tenaciously to bones, and clasping those bones to her virginal bosom. It was her dowry she was collecting and her nostrils, so delicately pearlescent, didn’t even notice the stench of the rotting remains and the putrid mud.
It didn’t take long, however, for discord to break out: there were not enough dead to satisfy the hunger of the living. There were blows, stabbings, gunshots. The only ones who weren’t fighting were the postman and his eleven-year-old son, who were working as a team. The boy was a bright lad. “Daddy!” he said, “Let’s go to Mummy’s grave, she was so big.”
In the morning there were more dead bodies lying on the graveyard than had ever lain under it during the thirty years of its existence. The only person who had not been there, who had not taken part in the killing, and who had not profaned any graves, was Belmiro, the drunkard. Entering into an untended shop he filled his bottle with cachaça and went off for a drinking session on the bank of the River Tubiacanga, where he watched its waters gliding over the rough, granite bed. Both of them – he and the river – were indifferent to what they had just witnessed, and even to the escape of the apothecary, carrying away his Potosi and his secret, under the eternal canopy of the stars.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
(The following biographical details have been translated from the [now defunct] Casa Lima Barreto website.)
Afonso Henriques de Lima Barreto was born in Rio de Janeiro on 13 May 1881 and died in the same city on 1 November 1922. The son of a typographer at the National Printing Works and of a state-school teacher, he was of mixed race. He was taught at first by his own mother, who died when he was seven. Through the influence of his godfather, Viscount Ouro Preto, an imperial minister, he completed his studies at the Pedro II National School, from where he went, in 1897, to the Polytechnic with the intention of studying to be an engineer. He had to give up his course, however, in order to become the breadwinner at home, after his father – bursar at the Colony for the Insane on Governador Island – himself became mentally ill in 1902. In the same year he had his first work published in the student press. The family moved to the Rio de Janeiro suburb of Engenho de Dentro, where the future writer decided to take part in a public examination for a vacancy in the Ministry of War. He came second but, because the first-placed candidate withdrew, he was able to take up the post, which he did in 1903.
Because his salary was only small, the family moved to a modest house in the suburb of Todos os Santos in which, in 1904, he began the first version of his novel Clara dos Anjos (Clara of the Angels). In the following year he began his novel Recordações do escrivão Isaías Caminha (Memoirs of the Clerk Isaías Caminha), which was published in Lisbon in 1909. He also published a series of reports in the Correio da Manhã newspaper and commenced the novel Vida e morte de M. J. Gonzaga de Sá (Life and Death of M. J. Gonzaga de Sá), which was not published until 1919. He participated in the Fon-Fon magazine and in 1907, together with some friends, launched the Floreal magazine, which survived for only four numbers but attracted the attention of the literary critic José Veríssimo. During this period he devoted himself to reading, in the National Library, the great names of world literature, including the European realist writers of the period; he was one of the few Brazilian writers who became familiar with the works of the Russian novelists.
In 1910 he was a juryman in a trial that condemned some soldiers involved in a student’s murder, an incident that came to be called ‘The Spring of Blood’; as a result he was passed over when it came to any possibilities of promotion in the secretariat of war. In the space of three months, in 1911, he wrote the novel Triste fim de Policarpo Quaresma (The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma), which was published in instalments in the Jornal do Comércio, for which he wrote, and also in the Gazeta da Tarde. In 1912 he published two instalments of the Aventuras do Dr. Bogoloff (The Adventures of Dr. Bogoloff), in addition to little humorous books, one of them printed in the O Riso magazine.
Although alcoholism was beginning take hold of him, it did not prevent him from continuing to work for the press and, in 1914, he commenced a series of daily feuilletons in the Correio da Noite. In 1915 the A Noite newspaper published his novel Numa e a ninfa (Numa and the Nymph) in instalments, and he began a long phase of work with the Careta magazine, writing political articles on various topics. In the first months of 1916, the novel Triste fim de Policarpo Quaresma appeared as a book, together with some notable short stories such as ‘A Nova Califórnia’ (New California) and ‘O homem que sabia javanês’ (The Man who Spoke Javanese); these were warmly received by the critics, who saw Lima as a true successor to Machado de Assis. He began writing for the political weekly A.B.C. After being hospitalised in July 1917, he delivered to his editor, J. Ribeiro dos Santos, the manuscript of Os Bruzundangas (The Bruzundangans – Bruzundanga being Lima’s satirical name for Brazil), which was not published until a month after his death, in 1922.
He applied for a vacancy in the Brazilian Academy of Letters, but his application was not even considered. He published the second edition of Isaías Caminha and, subsequently, the novel Numa e a ninfa in book form. He started publishing articles and feuilletons in the alternative press of the period: A Lanterna, A.B.C. and Brás Cubas, which published an article of his showing sympathy for the revolutionary cause in Russia. After being diagnosed with toxic epilepsy, he was pensioned off in December 1918 and he moved to another house in the Rua Major Mascarenhas in Todos os Santos, where he lived until his death.
At the beginning of 1919 he ceased his collaboration with the A.B.C. weekly, because he took issue with an article it published criticising the blacks. He published the novel Vida e morte de M. J. Gonzaga de Sá, which was personally edited and sent for typing by the editor Monteiro Lobato; this was the only one of Lima’s books to receive such standard editorial care and for which he was well paid; it was also well advertised, being praised by both old and new literary critics, such as João Ribeiro and Alceu Amoroso Lima. At this time he applied once more for a vacancy at the Brazilian Academy of Letters; on this occasion his application was accepted, but he was not elected, although he received the permanent vote of João Ribeiro. Under the title of ‘As mágoas e sonhos do povo’ (The People’s Sufferings and Dreams), he started publishing, in the Hoje magazine, weekly feuilletons of so-called ‘urban folklore’ and he entered into a second phase of collaboration with Careta, which lasted until his death.
From December 1919 to January 1920 he was hospitalised in consequence of a nervous breakdown, an experience recounted in the first chapters of the memoir O cemitério dos vivos (The Cemetery of the Living), which was not published until 1953, when it was issued in a single volume together with his Diário íntimo (Intimate Diary). In December 1920 Gonzaga de Sá was short-listed for the literary prize of the Brazilian Academy of Letters for the best book of the previous year; it received an honourable mention. In the same month, the short-story book Histórias e sonhos (Stories and Dreams) was published, and the manuscript of Marginália (Odds and Ends), comprising articles and feuilletons already published in periodicals, was delivered to his friend, the editor F. Schettino; the manuscript was lost, however, and the book did not come to be published until 1953.
A section of O Cemitério dos vivos was published in January 1921 in the Revista Souza Cruz, under the title ‘As origens’ (The Origins); but the work remained incomplete. In April of that year he went to the little town of Mirassol in the State of São Paulo, where a doctor friend of his, Ranulfo Prata, who was also a writer, tried to put him together again, but in vain. With his health badly undermined, he turned into a sort of recluse in his little house in Todos os Santos, where friends came to visit him and where his sister Evangelina looked after him devotedly. Whenever possible, however, he would embark on another walk through the city he loved, keeping reading, meditation and writing for home, despite the constant presence of his father’s madness, which got worse through a series of crises.
In July 1921 Lima applied for a vacancy in the Brazilian Academy of Letters for the third time, but he withdrew his application for ‘entirely personal and private reasons.’ He delivered the manuscript of Bagatelas (Trifles) to the publisher; this book was a collection of his principal journalistic work from 1918 to 1922, in which he analysed, with rare vision and clarity, the problems of the country and of the world after the 1st World War. However, Bagatelas was not published until 1923. In November 1921 he published, in the Revista Souza Cruz, the text of a speech ‘O destino da literatura’ (‘The Destiny of Literature’) that he had been due to make – but had not managed to do so – in the town of Rio Preto, near Mirassol. In December he began work on the second version of his novel Clara dos Anjos, which he finished the following January. The manuscript for Feiras e mafuás (One Thing and Another) was delivered for publication, which did not happen until 1953.
In May 1922 the magazine O Mundo Literário published the first chapter of Clara dos Anjos, ‘O carteiro’ (The Postman). His health was declining steadily as a result of rheumatism and alcoholism amongst other things, and Lima suffered heart failure and died on 1 November 1922. They found him holding the copy of the Revue des Deux Mondes – his favourite journal – which he had just been reading. Two days later, his father died. They were both buried in the São João Batista cemetery, in accordance with Lima’s wishes.
In 1953 a publisher issued some volumes of his unpublished works. But it was only in 1956, under the direction of Francisco de Assis Barbosa and with the collaboration of Antônio Houaiss and M. Cavalcanti Proença, that all his work was published in 17 volumes; these comprised all the novels mentioned above and also the following titles that were not published during his life: Os bruzundangas, Feiras e mafuás, Impressões de leitura (Literary Impressions), Vida urbana (City Life), Coisas do reino de Jambon (A Report from the Kingdom of Jambon), Diário íntimo, Marginália, Bagatelas, O cemitério dos vivos and two further volumes containing all his correspondence – both letters sent and letters received. In the following decades Lima has been the subject of many studies, both in Brazil and abroad. His works, particularly his novels and short stories, have been translated into English, French, Russian, Spanish, Czech, Japanese and German. He has been the subject of doctoral theses in the United States and Germany. To mark the centenary of his birth in 1981, conferences were held about him throughout Brazil, resulting in the publication of innumerable books, including essays, bibliographies and psychological studies of the author and his works. There is currently a growing interest in him among new Brazilian writers, who see him as a pioneer of the sociological novel. His literary production, which is vast in view of his early death, is gaining him – quite rightly – more and more distinction.
Translator’s note: In an obituary for Lima in the Jornal do Brasil on 5 November 1922 , Coelho Neto – who had given the oration at Machado’s funeral in 1908 – described him as:
one of the best novelists Brazil has had, who observed things with the power and precision of a microscope, and who wrote with magisterial assurance, describing ordinary life like no one else has done. Just as he was neglectful of himself, of his own life, so was Lima Barreto neglectful of the work he constructed, not seeking to correct its defects of language, presenting it just as it flowed from his pen, without the necessary revision, the indispensable polishing, the definitive final touch which a work of art needs. Despite everything, however, what has remained to us of this man is worth so much by way of observation of life and depiction of characters that the rough edges cannot destroy the beauty: sometimes they compromise it here and there but only in the same way that a wall with stains and cracks can affect the harmony of a fresco, but cannot negate the magnificence of the painting.
Despite the nit-picking, this might be considered gracious in view of the virulent criticisms made of Coelho Neto by Lima.