Orginally published in Portuguese in 1928, this landmark precursor of the Latin American ""magic realists"" now receives its...



Orginally published in Portuguese in 1928, this landmark precursor of the Latin American ""magic realists"" now receives its first English translation--an odd one, uneasily mixing British and American slang. Still, the adventurousness, wit, and ambition of avant-garde Brazilian poet/critic Mario de Andrade (1893-1945) come through impressively, sometimes even arrestingly. The title character in this short, dense, earthy collage is ""popular hero"" Macunaima--who at first seems to exist only in a folkloric setting, with more than a few intriguing overlappings with such other mythic-heroes as Hawaii's Maui. (See Steven Goldsherry's Maui the Demigod, p. 224.) The youngest of three vari-colored brothers, Macunaima is black and magical--transforming himself from a toddler into a virile swain in order to cuckold his brothers. He has fairly familiar run-ins with gods, goddesses, and giants, though the tone goes beyond folklore-craggy to vaudevillian: at the climax of a battle with Capei, the Moon Water-Mamma, he ""took a short step backward, snatched up a sharp flake of rock and--slash!--with one stroke smote off the brutal bulldyke's head."" And there's a very off-and-on plot frame--about Macunaima's quest for his lost magical amulet. But, just as one starts to grow tired of the gussied-up folklore form, Macunaima and his brothers casually slide over into present-day (i.e. 1926) Sao Paulo--where all the aspects of Brazil-intransition (multi-racial, Indian vs. European, rural vs. industrial, etc.) are blithely stirred in with the Indian-folklore motifs. Macunaima celebrates dark orgy-rituals with Blaise Cendrars and other less-well-known literary experimenters. He writes a long meditation on modern Sao Paulo to the ""Amazon ladies""--sarcastically saluting its politicians, warning that Brazil is ""becoming a colony"" of England or the US, and indulging in some thickly allusive satire. (""With all this, thanks be to the gods, we are satisfactorily au courant. . .We have obtained many bilingual books of the kind known as ponies or cribs, and the Petit Larousse dictionary; we are thus able to quote, in the original Latin, many well-known sayings of the philosophers and the Testicles of the Bible."") And, before turning into the Great Bear constellation, Macunaima will die (via some bawdy farce), revive, turn his brother into a telephone, plunge his arch-enemy into a cauldron of bubbling macaroni (""Not enough cheese!"" are the villain's last words), and deal with comic manifestations of such real horrors as leprosy and famine. Inventive, blessedly unsentimental (unlike much magic-realism nowadays), and not nearly as dated as it might be: a challenging curiosity--and an important sliver of literary history, with foreshadowings of Barthelme as well as Garcia Marquez.

Pub Date: July 1, 1984


Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1984