Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Sins of the Fat Capon: Brazilian Marginal Literature

Ferréz - the Brazilian author of "marginal literature," including his novel Capão Pecado [Sins of the Capon], based on life in the favela Capão Redondo [Fat Capon]. 
The 2002 Brazilian film "Cidade de Deus" ("City of God") depicted an epic drug-gang war in a Rio de Janeiro favela (slum). The narrative was based on the real and violent events that occurred in the favela of the same name during the late 70s and early 80s. Nominated for 4 Oscars and named 6th best action/war film of all time in 2010 by Britain's publication, The Guardian, this film's popularity soared internationally and drew broad interest in Brazilian culture and narrative.

City of God - the movie
Aside from historic events, this film was also heavily influenced by the 1997 novel by Brazilian author, Paulo Lins (also called Cidade de Deus). Lins, as well as several other newer Brazilian authors, make up a burgeoning contemporary group of Marginal Literature authors. These authors, themselves raised in the favelas on the periphery of Brazilian society, write about life in the margins and center their fiction around these "invisible" lives filled with great love and hate, tenderness and violence.

Poet and Founder of Cooperifa, Sergio Vaz.
Photo source
The movement of Brazilian Marginal Literature has picked up steam in the past decade, leading to the inauguration of organizations like Cooperifa, a cooperative of poor and blue collar writers, led by poet and group founder, Sergio Vaz.

This cooperative hosts open mic events in São Paulo during which audience members can share their own original poetry or short fiction as well as recite poems by other authors. Viewed as a way of developing one's own writing/reciting skills and a way of generating interest in literature, this cooperative is only one example of the grassroots initiatives that have sprung up as a result of the marginal literature movement.

In 2004, Alessandro Buzo opened the doors of the first and--thus far-- only bookstore carrying exclusively Brazilian marginal literature. The bookstore, called Suburbano Convicto publishes local authors and regularly hosts events in which these authors do readings from their latest book, promoting themselves as authors or poets and generating interest in literature.

Alessandro Buzo, founder of Suburbano Convicto,
a bookstore in São Paulo that exclusively
sells/publishes marginal literature. Photo source
Beyond this, though, Suburbano Convicto seems interested in promoting an entire subculture around the books it sells: the store also carries locally designed apparel, local music, and local amateur films. Inviting young rap artists to come and be a part of the store links poetry and rap, literature and the community. (Side note: if you read Portuguese, you must read this wonderful article by Brazilian critic, Marcelo Schincariol, in which he shows how a literary adaptation of the practice of "sampling" used in rap music is a major structural feature in Lins' City of God.)

By creating a lifestyle around the literature, those that have decided to dedicate themselves to literature can then also "rep" that decision outwardly: the bookstore's clothing marks them as a poet/rapper/writer just as certain colors can mark gang affiliations in the same neighborhoods.

Cover art for Capão Pecado
Several authors writing marginal literature have gained a good deal of notoriety. As I already mentioned, Paulo Lins' work is now known internationally, due large part to the cinematic adaptation one of his novels. But within Brazil, another author shares the spotlight with Lins: Ferréz. In 1998, Ferréz published his first novel, Capão Pecado [roughly translates to "Sins of the Capon"] a reference to the southern São Paulo favela he grew up in called Capão Redondo [Fat Capon].

The book opens with a free-flowing and rhythmic introduction by Mano Brown, a well-known Brazilian rapper.

This introduction is followed by a page-long, poetic dedication by Ferréz, in which he dedicates the book to the illiterate and those who are too poor to own their own books.

Then the narrative begins, moving through quotidian events of the Capão Redondo favela, following an adolescent boy named Rael, the novel's protagonist. Rael aspires to be a writer, but needs to confront the many "distractions" of the favela, the doubt of his family and friends in the ability of a favela boy to become a writer, and a dangerous conflict he initiates with his former best friend by falling in love with the friend's girlfriend.

As you can imagine, the novel doesn't have a warm-fuzzy ending with everything turning out all right. Justice does not prevail-- rather, what prevails is a sick, twisted vigilante form of justice wielded by the weak over the weaker.

But the novel approaches these subjects delicately and with a great degree of artistry. Making abundant use of the free indirect discourse, the narration successfully provides a kaleidoscope of perspectives. This free indirect style has an unsettling effect on the reader: one finds herself casually accepting circumstances that she would normally be horrified by. Ferréz has been accused of not knowing how to craft a novel, because the narration in his books can shift rapidly between perspectives-- but this seems to me to be the most efficient way to force his readers into the sense of helplessness and confusion often thriving in the favela.

The very title foreshadows the deconstruction of symbolic power that is to come in this book: a capon is a castrated rooster. Normally a symbol of male aggression, violence, and power, the symbolic rooster here is castrated, fattened, and awaiting the drop of the ax.

I have not found any English-language translations yet of Ferréz's books, but the author also happens to be a rapper (!!!) so you can still appreciate the sound of his words, even without understanding them.....
On a final note- I would just like to say that I would absolutely love it if bookstores in this country were as proactive about generating interest in local literature as is Suburbano Convicto. Wouldn't you love to meet up with you neighbors at the bookstore down the street, hear their poetry, listen to their music, and share recite your favorite poems for them?! Who's with me!? ...Or does something like this already exist?

Until next time-- keep those petticoats rustling!!!

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