Brazil

Foreword for Brazil

Gregory Rabassa

The isle of Serendip was said to be Ceylon (or Taprobana or Sri Lanka) but it also could have been Brazil, because it too was discovered by the Portuguese and was taken to be an island at the time. Although it has never been admitted officially—and most likely never will—serendipity and happenstance seem to be a mainstay of Brazil’s history from its very start, when Cabral supposedly stumbled upon it on his way to India. Even its name was not what they called it in earliest times. It came to be called Brazil in Portugal because of the colony’s wealth of the fine hardwood tree called brazilwood.

The language itself wandered off from the standard tongue in a manner of some kind of linguistic Darwinism, although far from any kind of theoretical rigidity. Brazilian Portuguese says what is best to be said at the moment or maybe just what it wants to say. In spite of this and many other freedoms, Brazil has managed to survive as a country, perhaps because of this same brand of individualism that quietly says “Why not?” The spirit behind all this is what the Brazilians call jeito, the impossible-to-translate word which seems to mean whatever they want it to mean. As we go from north to south, or from one region or city to another, the very separation of customs and manners is what holds them together as a nation: the paradox of jeito.

When reading things Brazilian it is wise not to plug them into universal literary currents, even when the authors themselves say this is where their muse lies. It is better to look at them side by side with other Brazilian things, looking past the words themselves to see what makes them siblings. The same can be done with buildings, paintings, and music as we seek out a common essence. And most often it will be the originality that is born of the moment. This is what you will find in these writings as you read them, while contemplating or unconsciously synthesizing what is around you or has been around you or will be around you in this variegated and free-spirited scene that is called Brazil.

Posted on 21 September 2010


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