Preface for Brazil

I want to keep this preface short, allowing the stories to tell themselves, unmediated.

Brazil is the fifth largest country in the world, occupying nearly half of South America. It pulsates with life. It percolates death. Everywhere there seems to be more of everything, all of it intertwined, like a mangrove swamp, like a rainforest draped in lianas.

How to capture it all? How to be representative?

It can’t be done. And so this mini-preface is a confession. There is something arbitrary about any anthology. This one owes a great deal to chance. In his foreword, Gregory Rabassa is right to focus on the word serendipity, “the faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.” It is my hope that this book will prove itself a kind of paean of praise to serendipity.

The stories in this collection are presented by region, with the initial focus on Brazil’s two major cities, Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Their friendly rivalry in the Brazilian imagination is depicted with a light ironic touch in the first story of the book, Luis F. Verissimo’s “The Real José.” After Rio and São Paulo, the reader, heading in any direction, will encounter Brazil’s ebullience, humor, sensuality, passion, abundance, tenderness, and the menace of violence.

Beyond the organizing principle of geography, this is an unprincipled anthology. I hope its richness of disorder and diversity mirrors that of the country itself. As for the authors represented and the stories selected, the anthologist must fall back upon the truth: serendipity. Some authors are world famous icons (Machado de Assis, Jorge Amado), some are newcomers, still little known even in their own country. Many of the stories are urban, others rural, some almost epically primordial. Some resonate with irony, irreverence, satire. Others speak in the rhythms of myth and tragedy. Some of these stories were drawn from my own earlier translation projects, others from previous anthologies. Various friends and colleagues contributed to this collection.

But whatever its sources, in the end this anthology lays no claim to being comprehensive or definitive. Rather it seeks to give the reader a glimpse here and there of a rich and bewildering land and its people.  Editorial decisions have relied upon one very simple principle: the pleasure principle—mine and, if all goes well, your own. I hope that the literary traveler in Brazil will savor this book as a rich and textured seasoning to the land itself.

Alexis Levitin

September 2009

Posted on 21 September 2010

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