Posts featuring Milton Hatoum

Milton Hatoum’s The Brothers and the Politics of Forgetting

Oppression builds insidiously, explodes in all its terror, and then slips quietly back under the surface.

I stand in my basement facing stacks of cardboard boxes, the remnants of my last cross-country move out to Boulder, CO. If you were to take a cross-section of each box, you would see the sediments of everyday objects: a top layer of clothes; the occasional sweater enveloping a ceramic mug; a layer of miscellaneous household necessities (clothes hangers, desk supplies, etc.); and finally, a thick deposit of books.

At the bottom of one of these boxes I found a thin book, barely visible between the thick spines of a heavily annotated copy of Bolaño’s The Savage Detectives and a fat collection of Pushkin short stories. I pulled out the paperback, which turned out to be a Brazilian novel, The Brothers, written by Milton Hatoum and translated into English by John Gledson. I couldn’t be sure if I had actually read the book before rediscovering it in the crevice of a cardboard box.

I flipped to the copyright information. The original was published in 2000, with the English translation released two years later. Milton Hatoum is a Brazilian author of Lebanese descent, born in 1952 in Manaus, a city in the Amazon. I flipped to the blurb, which promised the story of a Lebanese immigrant family, focusing on the rivalry between two twins, Yaqub and Omar, who live in Manaus in the latter half of the 20th century.

It’s an intriguing premise, one that draws on the age-old trope of brotherly rivalry, harkening back to Cain and Abel, to The Brothers Karamazov, and to Machado de Assis’s Esaú e Jacó. The novel promised to capture the author’s own experience as a man of Middle Eastern descent from a peripheral region of Brazil. I couldn’t remember how it went from my bookshelf to being snugly packed, which made me curious to investigate further. I left my final box unopened, sat down on the pillows and blankets I had piled on the floor, and began reading. The novel opens with an epigraph, a quote from a Carlos Drummond de Andrade poem:

 

   “The house was sold with all its memories

            all its furniture all its nightmares

            all the sins committed, or just about to be;

            the house was sold with the sound of its doors banging

            with its windy corridors its view of the world

                        its imponderables.”

 

The narrative then begins with Yaqub’s homecoming to Manaus from Lebanon, where he had spent some years of his youth, and the reuniting of the two twins under a single roof. Hatoum unveils ever-mounting tensions amongst members of the family through their domestic alliances and conflicts, and the touching and torrid backstories that define those relationships; rich descriptions of setting provide a fascinating portrait of Manaus, albeit one that is devoid of exoticization; and the complex exploration of character in simple, quotidian situations calls upon the wide-ranging tradition of the family saga in literature.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your latest updates from Brazil, Iran, and the UK

This week, Brazilian Editor-at-Large Maíra Mendes Galvão reports from Brazil’s vibrant literary scene. Poupeh Missaghi writes about how Iranians celebrated a revered literary figure’s birthday and gives us a peep into the preparations for the Tehran International Book Fair. And M. René Bradshaw has much to report from London’s literati! Hope you’re ready for an adventure! 

Maíra Mendes Galvão, our Editor-at-Large for Brazil, brings us the latest from literary events:

The capital of the Brazilian state of Ceará, Fortaleza, hosted the 12th Biennial Book Fair last weekend. The very extensive and diverse program included the presence of Conceição Evaristo, Ricardo Aleixo, Marina Colasanti, Joca Reiners Terron, Eliane Brum, Luiz Ruffato, Natércia Pontes, Daniel Munduruku, Frei Betto and many others. The event also paid homage to popular culture exponents such as troubadour Geraldo Amâncio, musician Bule Bule, and poet Leandro Gomes de Barros. One of the staples of Ceará is “literatura de cordel“, a literary genre (or form) that gets its name from the way the works (printed as small chapbooks) have traditionally been displayed for sale: hanging from a sort of clothesline (cordel). It was popularized by a slew of artists, including a collective of women cordel writers, Rede Mnemosine de Cordelistas, who marked their presence in a field originally dominated by men.

The northeast of Brazil is bubbling with literary activities: this week, from April 26-28, the city of Ilhéus, in the state of Bahia, hosts its own literary festival, FLIOS. There will be talks and debate about local literature and education as well as a book fair, workshops, book launches, performances, and readings.

The other upcoming literary festival is Flipoços, hosted by the city of Poços de Caldas in the south eastern state of Minas Gerais. Milton Hatoum, celebrated writer from the state of Amazonas, will be the patron of this edition of the festival, which will also pay homage to the literature of Mozambique. Guests include Rafael Gallo, Roberta Estrela D’Alva, Tati Bernardi, Ungulani Ba Ka Khosa, and others.

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