Roberto Drummond: Hilda Furacão (Hilda Hurricane)
Our hero/narrator is called Roberto Drummond and lives in Belo Horizonte. He was not always called Roberto Drummond. In his younger days he was Robert Francis Drummond. In primary school, he was teased because of Francis the Talking Mule and, when older, because of the Franciscans, so he dropped Francis. As we shall see, he became a Communist and one of the activities of his fellow communists was to push for the nationalisation of the (primarily US) oil industry. He tells us that he failed at nationalising oil but did manage to nationalise his name, changing it to Roberto.
His communist activities are one of several key plot themes in this book. We learn that he is arrested for them and shares a cell with two others, who had torched the US consulate. Throughout the book, we will follow his activism, including a planned armed uprising in imitation of Fidel Castro. We learn early on that he is followed by a police spy called Nelson Sarmento, the most notorious and in some ways most feared police operative of that time. Much later, he will read Sarmento’s reports on him and they are part of this book.
Though often serious, this book is also a very humorous novel and Drummond writes it in a chatty, colourful style. He frequently talks to us, his readers, and also to two other potential readers, his very religious aunts, Aunt Little Heart, a devotee of San Antônio, and Aunt Ciana, who had dropped San Antônio in favour of the Christ Child of Prague, because San Antônio let her hated cousin steal her boyfriend from her.
He, more than once, introduces characters or plot lines, only to tell us that we (his readers and aunts) will have to wait to learn more. So, in his style, if you are wondering where Hilda Hurricane fits into all this, you will just have to wait.
Roberto has three friends and their adventures are another key plot theme. The first is Malthus, who is a saint. He is a Dominican friar and very holy. He will play a key role in this book. The second is Aramel the Handsome, who is one of the characters whom we get introduced to early on but whose story is not told till later. He is a gigolo whose job is to pick up young women for his employer, Antônio Luciano, definitely the evil monster of this book. When Aramel makes the mistake of falling for one of the young women that Luciano wants, things get very unpleasant.
It is thanks to his political activities that Roberto gets a job as a journalist. He and a couple of friends, go to a newspaper to get it to publish some articles about student activities. while there, he meets a journalist who is also called Drummond. This Drummond claims to be a cousin and offers Roberto a job. He will remain a journalist, though not always with the same paper, throughout the book and his journalistic activities are as important if not more so than his political ones for the plot of this book.
We learn of several stories but there are three key ones. One, the least important (in terms of the plot), involves people trafficking. The two important ones involve Hilda Hurricane and the Bohemian Zone in the centre of Belo Horizonte. The Bohemian Zone is what we might call the red light district, as it is where the prostitutes ply their trade and also home to bars, night clubs and the like. However, there is a proposal before the Council to move all of its activities to Camellia City, well outside town. This seems to be a religious issue, as the women’s religious groups, as well as the Catholic hierarchy are pushing for it. However, it is more complicated than that as it seems that the evil Antônio Luciano is financing the opposition, as he will make a large profit out of property speculation in the area. Naturally, the prostitutes and the their clientele and the bars and nightclubs and their clientele are opposed to the move.
Hilda Gualtieri von Echveger comes from a prosperous family. She was a member of the local tennis club, went to posh parties and had posh friends. Because she wore a gold bathing suit at the tennis club, she was known as the Girl in the Gold Bikini. One day she gave it all up and took up residence in Room 304 of Hotel Marvellous, on Guaicurus Road, in the heart of Belo Horizonte’s Bohemian Zone. She became a prostitute. The men loved her. There were always long queues outside Room 304, particularly but not only the rich colonels who had plantations in the country but came into Belo Horizonte for the night life and for Hilda. Two proposed to her, offering her great riches if she accepted. In short, men fell for her.
However, for the Catholic groups opposed to the Bohemian Zone, she was the devil. Accordingly, they decided to demonstrate outside the Hotel Marvellous and called on Saint Malthus to exorcise her. He gladly accepted, opposed as he was to sins of the flesh.
On the day in question, Malthus was busy exorcising her, when she appeared. Malthus may have been a saint but he was also a man. His reaction was similar to that of many other men. She was not what he expected. He had, in fact, expected a big-breasted woman like Jayne Mansfield. She was not like Jayne Mansfield. As he tried to exorcise her, there was clap of thunder and it started to rain. The rain on her dress made it cling to her more and revealed her comely shape. It started to rain very heavily, so everyone tried to leave. Hilda was wearing expensive shoes but lost one in the downpour. Saint Malthus quickly picked it up and hid it in his cassock, sure that no-one had seen him. However, Roberto did see him, though said nothing. Hilda, however, knew that it had been foretold that she would lose her shoe and whoever found it would be her enchanted prince.
You may be wondering whether Roberto was also attracted to Hilda. The pair remained good friends, not least because Roberto the journalist was to do a story on her and wanted access to her. He and many others are eager to find out why she gave up the rich life to become a prostitute. He gives us – twice – various possible reasons, as do others. However, Roberto was in love with the Beautiful B. She is another character mentioned early on, with details only supplied later. However, we know she was the daughter of a very rich man and he had strictly forbade his daughter to marry a communist.
The book pursues these various themes: the Council vote on the removal of the Bohemian Zone and the repercussions of that decision; what Hilda does next; what Malthus does next; Aramel the Handsome’s problems with his boss; Roberto and the Beautiful B.; Roberto’s communist activities and journalist career; not to mention the political situation in Brazil, especially the fall of João Goulart; the two aunt’s religious issues; the activities of the other prostitutes, particularly Maria Man-Killer and Thin Waist; MC, Roberto’s 400lb colleague; the revolutionary dentist and Pelé‘s stunning header.
Did Hilda really exist? She answers the question. Why don’t you tell your readers that, as I said in your novel, I, Hilda Hurricane, never existed and I’m only an April Fool’s joke that you wanted to pass off on your readers?
This is a very funny and colourful novel, even if it does deal with some serious subjects. Drummond, however, manages to turn even the serious – communist insurrection, weighty religious matters, the death of his father, corruption in high places and more – into a very witty novel and enjoyable novel
First published in 1991 by Edições Siciliano
First English translation in 2010 by University of Texas Press
Translated by Peter Vaudry-Brown