5 Books from the Brazilian Short Story Boom of the 1970s

Journalist and writer André de Oliveira indicates books written in the decade in which the short story became popular in Brazil

In the midst of the leaden years of the military dictatorship, the 1970s were unique for Brazilian culture. In literature (I discovered it when I studied João Antônio in college) there was a whole generation of writers and, more specifically, of short-story writers, who dedicated themselves to urban characters and brief forms without worrying about the preferences of the market – which even today turns up its nose at the tales. Many of the authors that emerged in those years have now fallen into relative oblivion, others, such as Rubem Fonseca and Sérgio Sant’Anna, were luckier. A good part of them was fundamental to train me as a reader and writer. Brazil, which strives so hard to forget, should remember them – both the forgotten and those that have endured. They are masters of direct language, economy of words, accurate dialogues and stories of a social, but also psychological, nature. I list below five books (some published in the 1960s) that marked me from this short story boom of the 1970s.

Chili, Turkeys and Bacanaço

João Antônio (Publisher 34, 2020)

About this book, which won the author two Jabuti Awards – for best book of short stories and best debut author –, Antonio Candido wrote: “João Antônio does for the cursed spheres of urban society what Guimarães Rosa did for the world of the sertão, that is, that is, it elaborates a language that seems to spring spontaneously from the environment in which it is used, but in fact becomes the general language of men, as it is the result of an efficient stylization”. The stories in the book, with characters almost always in motion, stroll through São Paulo in the 1960s. And the main story, the book’s namesake, is a masterpiece that composes the portrait of the city and its margins when reporting the night of three rogues in search of glory in sad bars and pool halls.

Late night

Luiz Vilela (Attica, 1988)

The 25 texts that make up this book are a masterpiece from the point of view of form, the tale in its essence: stories that give the impression of having started long before the narratives and that suggest continuations beyond their final points. The boy who remembers the suicide of the grandfather he was talking to without saying a word; the student who saw the principal molest a colleague; the man who waits for the bus while talking to a girl who goes to the bus station to wait for her brother who has already died. All the texts – especially the dialogue-stories, so characteristic of the production of that period – are accurate in highlighting the unsaid that permeate the lives of characters who, for the most part, experience and reproduce the harshness and lack of communication of the male universe.

before the green dance

Rita Lee (Globo Livros, 2016)

Lygia Fagundes Telles already had an extensive career in literature when she published this book. However, the collection, composed of 18 texts, represented a milestone in the work of the writer, who would later publish classics such as “As Meninas”, “Seminario dos Ratos” and “A Estrutura da Bubble Soap”. Regarding the short stories of “Antes do baile verde” – among laudatory criticisms by intellectuals such as Antonio Candido and Paulo Rónai – Silviano Santiago made the best comment: “a short and succinct definition of Telles’ short stories will say that their most salient feature is their difficulty that human beings have in establishing bonds”. In the texts, the writer presents the life of the urban middle class and their psychological dilemmas while laying bare Brazilian social conflicts.

Happy New Year

Rubem Fonseca (Nova Fronteira, 2021)

A scammer and first-time supporter of the Brazilian civil military dictatorship, Senator Dinarte Mariz went to the newspapers scandalized: “Suspending “Happy New Year” was not enough. Whoever wrote that should be in jail and whoever gave him shelter too. I couldn’t read even a page. Half a dozen words were enough. It’s such a low thing that the public shouldn’t even know about it.” The annoyance of people like Mariz would be reason enough to recommend this book: while the military and their minions were writing articles against Fonseca’s prose, people were being raped and electrocuted on the macaw sticks in official basements. It is for this reason, but also for being unique in the way it exposes social violence and the hypocrisy of good customs in Brazil, that “Happy New Year” needs to continue to be read.

The mother and the son of the mother

Wander Piroli (SESI-SP, 2016)

At some point in his life, Wander Piroli was called the Brazilian Hemingway. There were two reasons for the nickname. One was his short, dry narratives, no adjectives, no refreshments. Another was his simple way of life: he liked cachaça, cigarettes and fishing. He used to say, by the way, that fishing was much better than writing. Piroli became best known for “O Menino e o Pinto do Menino”, “Os rios die de sede” and “O matador”, the first and true Brazilian children’s best sellers. “The mother and son of the mother”, however, is a small forgotten masterpiece, which portrays the urban daily life marked by a tension that only grows along with class inequalities.

André de Oliveira was born in São Paulo, in 1988. He is a journalist, worked for the Spanish newspaper El País, in the Sunday supplement Alias, of O Estado de S. Paulo, and also worked for the magazines Brasileiros and Carta Capital. In 2020 and 2021, he was assistant director of the International Literary Festival of Paraty.

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