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Ignácio de Loyola Brandão: Não verás país nenhum (And Still the Earth)
Every country should have its dystopian novel and this is Brazil’s. It certainly is not the only Brazilian dystopian novel but it is the classic Brazilian dystopian novel. As with all great dystopian novels, there should be (and, in this case, there certainly is) a strong recognition of the present day in it.
Judging by the limited information we are given, it seems to be set early in the 21st century (the book was published in 1981). It is set in São Paulo. Our hero is called Souza and he has been married to Adelaide for thirty-two years. They have no children, though that issue turns out to be more complicated than first seen. Souza is lucky to have a job, albeit a very boring one, checking lists of figures against computer print-outs. He has never found a mistake. He used to be a professor of history but that job long has since disappeared.
The dystopian element is soon seen. São Paulo is massively overcrowded and basic services seem to have been slashed or disappeared. For example, water is rationed. You get a limited amount of coupons but, once they are gone, you do not drink till you get your next lot of coupons. With shopping, you have a designated shopping day. You can only shop on that day and, if you do not, you risk losing your slot. Most food is artificially produced and fairly tasteless.
Souza has an injured leg and it has taken a lot of time and a lot of bribery to get permission to take the bus to work. He has to go on a specific bus, i.e one at a specific time, which tends to be always punctual so he cannot be late. Though it is the same passengers every day, no-one speaks to one another, except for Souza who wishes them Good morning. They do not respond. There are no cars and the only alternative is walking or cycling.
There is one other problem in going to work – gunfire. I flattened to the ground: reflex. We are all well conditioned—a tenth of a second was all it took. This happens frequently so it can take a couple of hours to walk a short distance. The gunfire comes from the Civil Guard, i.e the police, who use a cataleptic dart, which does not kill, merely renders the victim unconscious. S/he will wake up in prison.
One of the other restrictions is that you can only go to areas which you are allowed to go to. You have a card which indicates what they are. This means you have to eat lunch, for example, only at your designated lunch spot. Certain areas and streets are off limits if you do not have authorisation to enter them. Inspectors regularly check cards and if you are caught, you either have to produce a bribe or face arrest.
The country is ruled by the System, a right-wing junta. A right-wing junta of course, was in power in Brazil when this book was published. Newspapers are no help, they censored themselves little by little until they perfected the art of saying absolutely nothing. Television is monitored by official censors. Even if it weren’t monitored, there’s nothing on of interest. The news bulletins are completely innocuous.
Adelaide has a nephew who is in the New Army, a strange technology-based militia which has a lot of influence. He is able to get them extra water coupons and he got Souza his job.
Part of the story is about climate change. The Amazon Basin has been over-exploited and, in particular, the North West of Brazil,including the Amazon Basin, has become a desert. This is considered a good thing, as it is larger than the Sahara and considered the Ninth Wonder of the world. (We do not learn what the Eighth is.) One of Souza’s former colleagues at the university was fired for pointing out how harmful this was. We know that part of the cause of climate change involved nuclear testing. There are many more dystopian elements, which appear throughout the book.
We follow the story of Souza. He has some sort of problem with his hand and a hole develops in it. He refuses to go to the doctor, despite Adelaide’s insistence, as that can be complicated and expensive. It may be some infectious disease and, indeed, some of those people who see his hand think it is. However, that is not his only problem. At around the same time, he loses his job, primarily for excessive absenteeism. Adelaide seems to disappear, though he does not know where to, and he does not seem too worried, only that he misses her. Then, the nephew asks him for a favour, lodging some friends of his. He also meets an old friend, whom he had long thought dead and this friend shows him a side of São Paulo he had never seen, including the car graveyard.
Thr book focusses on four interrelated themes. The first is the current story of Souza, after he loses his job and Adelaide disappears. The second is his early life, including his childhood. The third is the various dystopian elements, some of which are fairly predictable, others of which are not. The fourth is how Brazil got to where it is now. In all cases things get worse and are generally thoroughly miserable to start off with. De Loyola Brandão does not hold back. If you think it cannot get worse, it does. Some of the dystopian elements are quite inventive but, inventive or obvious, they are all grim.
Though published in 1981, this book raises many of today’s concerns. In the environmental field, we have climate change, global warming, species extinction, desertification, drought and serious levels of pollution. We also have overpopulation, corruption, rich vs poor, arbitrary power, high levels of crime and lots of random violence. Some of those issues were around in Brazil (and elsewhere) when this book was published. Many of then still are.
It is not a book for the squeamish but there is no question that de Loyola Brandão tells a first-class tale, much of which is unexpected while at the same time painting a very gloomy picture of both what the future might hold and, to a certain degree, the then current situation in Brazil.
First published 1981 by Codecri
First published in English 1985 by Avon Books
Translated by Ellen Watson