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Chico Buarque: Estorvo (Turbulence)

Our unnamed narrator is a young Brazilian who comes from a well-to-do family but has chosen to live a more impoverished life. We first meet him, asleep in his bed in his flat in a poorer part of town (the town presumably being Rio de Janeiro). He is woken by a man knocking at his door. He sees, when looking through the spyhole, that the man is well-dressed, wearing a suit. Who is he? The man feigns departure and our narrator hurries away, just avoiding the man, and hurries to the rich part of town, where he goes to see his rich sister. He gets money from her – this seems to be a regular occurrence – and then heads out of town.

During the course of this relatively short book, we follow his wanderings. While he often (but certainly not always) seems to have a specific destination in mind, his wanderings seem to be conducted in an almost dream-like state, as though he is not really connected with the real world. Indeed, it is not always clear if he really is going where he says he is going or doing what he says he is doing but, instead, he might well be imagining everything.

Indeed, on occasions, he implies that he is actually imagining events. He imagines the man in the suit going home to his pregnant wife, for example, while later on he imagines that his mother has died and that the porter has to break down the door when she does not respond. In short, he is a dreamer, disconnected from real life.

As far as we can tell, he does not have a job or even an activity that keeps him occupied, except for dodging the mysterious man in the suit. He did have a male friend when younger and they used to go out and do things together. One day they met some anthropology students. He started talking to one and they eventually married. He never saw his friend again. He suspects, though, of course, there is no evidence for this, that his wife intercepted all the friend’s phone calls and refused to let the two men speak to one another. During the events of this book, he will go to his friend’s flat but he does not find him.

As far as we can determine there are three women who he keeps in touch with. The first is his sister whom he visits several times during the course of the book. He sponges money off her, to the disgust of her husband, accidentally crashes a party she is giving and even steals her jewels which she has hidden away in a cupboard. He only manages to gain access to the gated village, by bumping into his sister’s friend, who takes him in and even makes a pass at him.

While he mentions his mother and his sister urges him to contact her and he goes to her flat (to leave a suitcase of marijuana outside her door!), he never sees her during the course of the book. He does try to phone her from his sister’s house but she cannot hear him or does not want to. She appears to be well-off but lives her own life.

He and his wife are separated and she works in an expensive clothes shop. He goes to her shop a couple of times during the course of the book, the second time causing some damage. The first time she gives him access to her flat, so he can collect some things from it (it is the flat where they used to live as a couple) and he ends up making a mess of the place. When she returns, she finds him asleep in her bed and she is very upset.

The other place he visits is the family farm. It seems that it has been allowed to decay somewhat and has been partially taken over by squatters. Indeed, when he goes there, a local vigilante throws him out, thinking he is one of the squatters. The second time he goes there – to fence his sister’s stolen jewellery – he gets beaten up.

Overall, he has no purpose in life, no connection with the real world and no prospects. A few strange incidents do happen to him. In addition to the mysterious man in the suit, there is an incident on the bus, when the passenger sitting next to him seems to die. Our narrator tells no-one and gets off the bus leaving the body there. His travails with the case of marijuana, which he carts over the city, is one of the few amusing bits of the book.

This is certainly a somewhat strange book. We do not really get to know the narrator, though we follow him around. Who is the man in the suit? What does our narrator do when not fleeing the man in the suit? What lead him to the situation he is in? Buarque is not interested in giving answers, only in showing, firstly, a man disconnected from real life and, secondly, mocking the well-to-do and their pretensions.

Publishing history

First published 1991 by Companhia das Letras
First published in English 1992 by Pantheon Books
Translated by Alfred Mac Adam