Aluísio Azevedo - one of the most widely read and critically acclaimed novels ever written about Brazil. Indeed, its great popularity, realistic descriptions, archetypal situations, detailed local coloring, and overall race-consciousness may well evoke Huckleberry Finn as the novel's North American equivalent

Aluísio Azevedo, The Slum, Ed. and trans. by David H. Rosenthal, Oxford University Press, 2000. [1890.]
read it at Google Books

First published in 1890, and undoubtedly Azevedo's masterpiece, The Slum is one of the most widely read and critically acclaimed novels ever written about Brazil. Indeed, its great popularity, realistic descriptions, archetypal situations, detailed local coloring, and overall race-consciousness may well evoke Huckleberry Finn as the novel's North American equivalent. Yet Azevedo also exhibits the naturalism of Zola and the ironic distance of Balzac; while tragic, beautiful, and imaginative as a work of fiction, The Slum is universally regarded as one of the best, or truest, portraits of Brazilian society ever rendered.

This is a vivid and complex tale of passion and greed, a story with many different strands touching on the different economic tiers of society. Mainly, however, The Slum thrives on two intersecting story lines. In one narrative, a penny-pinching immigrant landlord strives to become a rich investor and then discards his black lover for a wealthy white woman. In the other, we witness the innocent yet dangerous love affair between a strong, pragmatic, "gentle giant" sort of immigrant and a vivacious mulatto woman who both live in a tenement owned by said landlord. The two immigrant heroes are originally Portuguese, and thus personify two alternate outsider responses to Brazil. As translator David H. Rosenthal points out in his useful Introduction: one is the capitalist drawn to new markets, quick prestige, and untapped resources; the other, the prudent European drawn moth-like to "the light and sexual heat of the tropics."
A deftly told, deeply moving, and hardscrabble novel that features several stirring passages about life in the streets, the melting-pot realities of the modern city, and the oft-unstable mind of the crowd, The Slum will captivate anyone who might appreciate a more poetic, less political take on the nineteenth-century naturalism of Crane or Dreiser.

"Language has always been a barrier to our unity as the Americas, and most especially to our reading of each other's literatures. Now with this new series by Oxford University Press, the library of Latin America is literally open to North Americans and to English speakers everywhere. This is an important series for anyone who is prevented from knowing the classics of the southern half of this hemisphere because of not knowing the language. ¡Bienvenidos to these new readers!"--Julia Alvarez

This enormously popular and influential Brazilian novel, first published n 1890, is a landmark work of accusatory naturalism whose energetic author (1857–1913) at his best deserves comparison with Balzac (a likely influence) and his exact contemporary Zola. The story concerns two obsessive love affairs and their disastrous consequences: that of (the amusingly named) Romao, an avaricious landowner who gives up everything (including his black mistress) to pursue a wealthy white woman, and that of (his tenants) the hulking, well-meaning Jeronimo and the mulatto spitfire Rita Bahiana, for whose sake he destroys several lives, including his own. Azevedo is a passionate, sometimes hortatory writer, who tends to overmanage and needlessly explain, but his portrayals of urban discontent, rampant materialism, and especially of restless souls shaped and driven by their desires have an immediacy and authority that transcend (while not quite eschewing) melodrama, and have aged remarkably well. - Kirkus Review

We may have a title problem here. ''The Slum'': is there anyone whose interest would be ignited by these words on a dust jacket? In a better world, the name Aluisio Azevedo would mean something to North Americans. He was a major figure in late 19th-century Brazilian letters, and ''The Slum'' is considered his masterpiece. He planned the book to be Volume 1 in a five-part series analogous to Balzac's ''Human Comedy'' -- an all-encompassing portrait of one society. Not long after ''The Slum'' was published in 1890, however, Azevedo gave up writing. He served as a diplomat until his death in 1913. ''What's the use of writing? For whom?'' he asked a friend. ''We have no readers. . . . I've had it up to here with literature!''
Nonetheless, ''The Slum'' sold steadily through the 20th century as literacy spread across Brazil. It is not difficult to see why. Azevedo had trained to be an artist, and his strong eye shows in his prose: ''The washtubs stood abandoned; there was no one on the bleaching ground. Baskets heaped with ironed garments left the little homes, mostly borne by the washerwomen's children, almost all dressed in clean clothes. Short jackets fluttered above brightly colored calico skirts. Straw hats and burlap aprons were scorned. Instead, the Portuguese women wore bright flowered kerchiefs around their heads, while the Brazilians had combed their hair and stuck two-vintem bouquets among their curls.'' Azevedo traveled with his sketchbook to Rio's slums, returning home to render the visual into words. ''The Slum'' is the sort of novel Tom Wolfe has ordered his colleagues to write, a Great American Novel with great American themes, notably greed and race. Does ''The Slum'' have sex? ''With a sudden, savage spasm, they both collapsed in each other's arms, panting. Her mouth was wide open, her tongue hung out, her arms and fingers were stiff, and her whole body shuddered as though she were dying, while Jernimo, flung far from life by that unexpected explosion, surrendered to a delightful intoxication, feeling the entire world and his own past vanish like vain shadows. Unaware of anything around him or even of his own existence, eyeless, earless and senseless, he retained one clear, vivid, inextinguishable sensation: that warm, vibrant flesh.'' Azevedo's novel, in this agile translation by David H. Rosenthal, covers many of the varieties of sexual experience. One of its more levelheaded characters is very clearly a lesbian. However, in Azevedo's swirling world good sense and sexual passion most often work at cross-purposes. Passion tends to lead from light skin to dark, coolness to heat (the American sun is the fatal Zeus of Azevedo's tragedy), spirituality to lust, hard work to lazy pleasure. The sentences after desire usually feature coiling vipers in a symbolism familiar to readers of the Bible. But Azevedo loves tropical America, and sees surrender to its marriage of Eros and Thanatos as inevitable, if not exactly wise. The alternative to carnal passion, broadly understood, is a passion for money. In Azevedo's slum, self-advancement means taking more from others than you have paid for. The slum constitutes the human manure (a ubiquitous Azevedo metaphor) in which fortunes are seeded and grow. The flower of such cultivation in ''The Slum'' is a Portuguese landlord named Jo. - Scott L. Malcomson

Aluísio Azevedo, Mulatto, Trans. by Murray Graeme Macnicoll Univ of Texas Prress, 1993.

In 1881, Brazilian Aluisio Azevedo published "Mulatto," a scathing expose of his native city, Sao Luis do Maranhao. Polemic as well as love story, it brought him much notoriety and is generally considered the first Brazilian naturalist novel. Set before the abolition of slavery and the establishment of the first republic, "Mulatto" tells the story of Raimundo, a young Brazilian of liberal ideas. Kept in ignorance of the identity of his mother and the secret of his mixed birth, Raimundo is educated in Europe and, upon returning to Brazil, struggles against the provincial and bigoted society he encounters. "Mulatto" reveals its author's opposition to both the clergy, whose corruption and influence he denounced, and the racist agrarian society still dependent upon slavery. This English translation of "Mulatto" was first published in 1990 by Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.


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