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Teolinda Gersâo: O silêncio [Silence]

É um mundo que começou a enlouquecer… Um mundo eficiente, de silêncio total, em que ninguém mais fala com ninguém. [It is a world which started to go mad… An efficient world, of total silence, in which no-one ever speaks to anyone]. Gustave Flaubert once said that he would like to write a novel about nothing. He did not but this novel may be close to that. The title explains straightaway what this novel is about. It is about silence. In particular, it is about lack of communication and, more particularly, the lack of communication between men and women. The main character is Lídia. She is having an affair with Afonso, a surgeon and married to Alcina. Though they do talk, it is not the talk that Lídia wants. Afonso is structured and ordered and talks in that way. Everything must be in its place. This is brilliantly shown by a nouveau roman-like enumeration of the objects in the house. But Lídia want to go beyond that, through the windows, into the outside world or into the world of imagination, but Afonso just does not get it. Structure and order versus imagination, objects and things versus nature and, of course, men versus women, are the key to the oppositions Gersâo sets up in this novel.

She and Afonso are compared with others, in particularly Lídia’s parents. Her mother, Lavinia, is Russian by origin, married to Alfredo. Alfredo, using not only the power of language but the male power of language, the one that sets order and structure, insists that his wife needs to learn Portuguese perfectly, in order to be able to communicate on everyday matters with the people around her. Like her daughter, this is not how Lavinia sees language. She sees it as a liberating force, not as a way of placing order in the world. She struggles, unsuccessfully, with this and ends up killing herself with an overdose of sleeping pills. Alcina, whom we briefly meet, is confined to her home with this order and structure and with her servant, Ana, on whom she so depends. Lídia, struggling herself with Afonso’s order finally realises that she cannot cope with his ways and, at the end, walks away, leaving us with the view that men and women are divided by an unbreachable barrier.

Of course, this book has not been translated into English. It is only short – the Portuguese edition only has 122 pages – and written in a very straightforward Portuguese but Gersâo packs into it the whole breakdown of male-female communication or lack thereof. It is a novel that, despite its apparent simplicity, makes you think very much about the nature of the world. It is a pity that it is not available to a wider audience.

Publishing history

First published 1981 by Livraria Bertrand
No English translation
Translated into German as Das Schweigen, Frauenbuchverlag, 1987