Osman Lins, neat and amazing

By Hugo Almeida

Osman Lins, one of the greatest Brazilian writers of the 20th century, has his three main books translated in the United States: Avalovara (University of Texas Press), translated by Gregory Rabassa; Nine, novena (Sun & Moon Press) and The Queen of the Prisons of Greece (Dalkey Archive Press), both translated by Adria Frizzi.

“When he died of cancer three days after turning fifty-four, Osman Lins (1924-1978) was one of the most prominent figures of twentieth-century Brazilian literature and a writer of international renown whose works had been translated into several languages and analyzed in countless articles and several books and dissertations”, Adria Frizzi said. As she wrote in her introduction, “Nine, novena represents a turning point in Lins’ work, the relinquishment of a traditional approach to literature in favor of experimentation, and one of the most inventive moments in modern Brazilian literature”.

In fact, the narratives of Nine, novena inaugurated in 1966 a new phase in the work of the writer. Before he wrote fiction that was considered “traditional”, influenced by classics such as Dostoievski, Flaubert, Hemingway, and Machado de Assis.  Several Brazilian literary critics have already analyzed sundry aspects of the book, such as the virtuosity of the text, aperspectivism, the cosmic dimension, the multiplicity of narrative voices, the musicality, and the ornament, the contribution of the new French novel (nouveau roman), etc.

Avalovara: unfolds to infinity

A writer who had always had an upward trajectory, Osman Lins published in 1973 his most audacious and neat work, Avalovara, which reached the top of the bestseller lists at the time in Brazil. The novel is structured on a square (limit space) and a spiral (infinite time) that shelter the Latin palindrome Sator Arepo Tenet Opera Rotas (“The husbandman carefully keeps the plow in the grooves” or “The farmer carefully keeps the world in its orbit”). Each of the eight different letters of the 25-letter sentence – that repeat in the spin of the spiral – corresponds to a theme.

Avalovara is not just about Abel, an unpublished writer who writes an essay, “The Journey and the River”, and who loves three women, at different times: Anneliese Roos, composed of cities, a symbol of space; Cecília, whose body is formed by men, and the woman whose name is a graphic symbol, synthesis of flesh and verb. The novel unfolds to infinity.

In symphonic modulation, there are countless stories and layers in the text: art, music, the erudite and the popular, the sacred and the profane, the mythical and the historical time, the Earth and the universe, the transcendence and the quotidian, the political question and social. “If I had written Avalovara I wouldn’t have had to write for 20 years,” the Argentine writer Julio Cortázar (1914-1984) said. However just three years later Osman Lins, obstinate, published The queen of prisons in Greece, a novel “even more complex than Avalovara”, according to Maryvonne Lapouge, translator of his work into French.

The queen of prisons in Greece

A very different book from Avalovara. In the form of a diary, a professor of Natural Sciences analyzes and interprets a beautiful novel, oral language, radiophonic, full of popular songs (“the book resounds”), serious and fun, also entitled The queen of prisons in Greece, by his beloved, Julia Marquezim Enone. Maria de França, a formerly crazy domestic worker and ex-worker, the protagonist of Julia Enone’s book, tries in Social Security a temporary or permanent benefit.

It shows Brazil, but it also dives in Greek waters. It is good to remember that orality and popular songs are hallmarks of the Greek universe, and that the topography of Recife, a “liquid” city, and Olinda, a “solid” city, resembles that of Athens. Five times in the course of the novel, which has the fingers as its structure, the narrator has been asking himself the philosophical question since the pre-Socratics: “Who am I?”. In the whole book, this metaphysical question is present, the concern with being (immutable), not with having (something transitory). Like Osman Lins and his life. He did not distinguish between life and literature.

About the Writer:

Hugo Almeida, a Brazilian journalist and writer, wrote a thesis about Osman Lins’ work. He is author of Mil corações solitários [A thousand lonely hearts], Viagem à Lua de canoa [A journey to the Moon by canoe], Meu nome é Fogo [My name is Fire] and other books. He writes on the Brazilian literature website saopauloreview.com.br

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