Wistful novel by Brazilian writer and singer/songwriter Buarque (Budapest, 2004, etc.), one with plenty of autobiography in its pages, of a son’s quest for the brother he never knew.
Ciccio is a Brazilian teenager who, mostly ignored at home as long as he keeps quiet, acts out in anti-social ways, including boosting cars with his pal Thelonious. His taste is questionable, since he’s given to bad whiskey and the first car we see them steal is a Skoda, but Ciccio is a young man of resources all the same; whereas his brother reads only comic books, Ciccio has “sort of managed to read half of War and Peace in French,” and now he’s trying out his English by sneaking into his aloof, intellectual father’s library to read J.G. Frazier’s Golden Bough. There, in that great book of shifting identity and parricide, Ciccio—his name a thin calque of Chico—discovers a letter, “written in German and teeming with capital letters,” to his father from a woman named Anne Ernst. The letter evokes buried memories of whispered conversations between Ciccio’s father and mother of a son he sired while working in Germany just before the rise of the Nazis. Ciccio’s search for his missing half brother allows him to give some humanity to his father, who might as well be a bust on a shelf, and it swallows up years. Buarque writes with occasional bursts of lyricism (“jealousy is a tunnel that leads to a tunnel within a tunnel”), but mostly his book is matter-of-fact, and as it proceeds it becomes ever clearer that Ciccio’s story is Buarque’s, the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction blurred and finally erased. The story, which interrogates the histories of Brazil and Germany as well as the dynamics of unhappy families, comes to an ending that can be seen from afar but that is moving all the same.
A slight but poignant exploration of the past that lies tucked away between the pages of musty books, revealing that our parents had lives before we were born.