Trash by José Américo de Almeida

It says on the inside cover of my copy of Trash that it is “probably the most important novel in modern Brazilian literature”. This seems some claim for a novel that I’d never really heard of and which I only ever discovered by coming across it one day in a second-hand bookshop (and using my usual criteria of buying anything that seems foreign, obscure and not published recently); but then again, it’s not as if we as English-speakers are exactly very familiar with many other masterpieces of Brazilian literature.

To be honest though, the keyword in the above statement I guess is “importance”. They’re not claiming it’s the best novel in modern Brazilian literature; which is fair enough, because it certainly has its issues: the foremost of those being its didactic tendency. For often it wishes to make a political/social point, and it’s not its intention to artfully blend it into the narrative. This is a pity, because the narrative sections – some highlanders, in a period of drought, come down into a town, where a poor girl falls in love with a rich boy etc. – are actually pretty enjoyable: a kind of romantic idyll, set against the backdrop of the sertão, which towards the end becomes increasingly dark and troubling and not really how you were expecting it to pan out.

So “important” not because of its place as literature, but because of its place in the Brazilian literary tradition – because of its influence; because of its place as cultural object – and other immaterial concerns; for it marks the beginning of a shift away from the European tradition towards a more Brazilian literature, a breakaway from colonialism to mirror a similar political breakaway etc. etc. – you know all this already, and I’m only copying out platitudes from the introduction without any real idea of whether they’re true or not. But still it was this novel which brought us Jorge Amado and Graciliano Ramos and Rachel de Queiroz – or, at least, it was demonstrably published before them – indeed, it was published in the same year as Mário de Andrade’s diametrically opposed Brazilian novel Macunaíma, 1928.

Ground-breaking then, but not Earth-shattering.

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