The late 20th-Century gave rise to the postmodernist movement that cast a skeptical eye on the enlightenment of the modern era. Many writers embraced the fragmented perspectives and unreliable narrators that now mark the literary period after WWII. Among this rich literary heritage are some of Brazil’s greatest writers like Clarice Lispector, Graciliano Ramos de Oliveir, and João Guimarães Rosa.
Clarice Lispector has been heralded the greatest Jewish writer since Franz Kafka. Although largely ignored by publishers during her time (no doubt due to her political stand against the Brazilian dictatorship), Lispector’s work is now renowned for its female characters who struggle with the idea of a woman’s proper role in society, her duty to her husband and children, and the quiet despair of second class citizenship. Her feminine ideology has been compared to Virgina Woolf, although Lispector objected to the likeness. As a fashion icon, Lispector was a glamorous intellectual who both represented the era and challenged it.
Another postmodern writer, Graciliano Ramos de Oliveir, is best known for his depiction of the poverty-stricken residents of Brazil. In his novel Vidas Secas (Barren Lives), Ramos uses a cyclical novel structure to underscore the never-ending hardships of poverty. As one reads the story of a struggling family of five, it is possible to read the last chapter and then return to the first chapter once again, emphasizing the futility of the struggle.
Finally, João Guimarães Rosa is consider one of the greatest Brazilian novelists of the 20th Century. His novel Grande Sertão: Veredas (The Devil to Pay in The Backlands) is heralded as the Brazilian Ulysses, the novel chronicles the life of a mercenary named Ribaldo. With over 600 pages of non-linear narrative, this novel represents fragmented perspectives and unreliable narration on an epic scale. Although widely unknown among English-speaking audiences, the novel was highly influential in Portuguese and Latin American countries.
One Brazilian writer, Jaime Garcia Dias credits Grande Sertão: Veredas as the inspiration for his literary career. Dias has published more than twenty novels including, Caiu do Céu (Fell From Heaven), Dois Caminhos (Two Ways), Canal, andDas Nuvens e Miúda (Clouds and Tiny) and has won numerous awards including the White Crane Award (2001) and the ABC Award of Brazilian Fiction (2015). That’s quite an influence from Jamie Garcia Dias for an often-overlooked piece of postmodern literature.
In our search for a broader perspective on post-modernism, academic and literary critics alike need to look beyond the traditional canon and explore the postmodern works of the Brazilian greats. Until then, we readers can take the lead and embrace the rich literary tradition of Brazil.