ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 02

The Righteous Will Be Made Whole

Author | Autor: Godofredo de Oliveira Neto

Translated by Leslie Hawkins Damasceno

Hotel Levant 
São Paulo, 01/20/1981

The doctors give me six months, maximum. In my case, there’s no cure for
the disease. So, I’ll die at 51. My parents also died relatively young. Even
so, I had to come back to entrust this story, this history that I’ve been
rewriting for the past ten years to my own country. I intend to leave the
manuscript in the living room of our house on Avenida Paulista, in São Paulo. I left my
apartment on East 93rd Street in New York just to do this. If somebody finds it, that’s
fine. If it gets mixed up in the rubbish and dust of the demolition, so be it! That’ll be
its fate. I would prefer that my relatives not find the text (Uncle Ludovico was the
one who put the house up for auction). They might censure passages, change other.
More to the point, they might just toss it in the trash.
  If they read it, let it be once I’m already dead.
  I hesitated about two matters. I should have given a title to the manuscript.
No way not to. Also, I couldn’t decide whether to give false names to my family.
Finally, I decided to leave it as it was: with their real names, mine as well, Tecla. I’d
given the title as The Rünnels. It’s a fact that my whole life was largely determined
by what happened in that family. I met the Rünnels when I was about twelve and we
were living in Diamante, in the South of Brazil. The Second World War was raging
in Europe. (Of course, we could feel the tension of the war in Diamante, right next
to the region of the Contestado, even though it is far from the coast, towards the
western part of Santa Catarina and Paraná. But what most struck a cord for us was
how it brought to mind the messianic images, indelible in our collective memory,
of the violent passions and copiously spilled blood that flooded the region during
the Wars of the Contestado that tore our corner of Brazil apart from 1912-1916.) The
whole environment reeked of denunciation, betrayal, torture and crime. Releases
from Europe reported atrocities and barbarism, news that swiftly spread throughout
the world. Death and blood were ever-present topics of conversation. Human virtues.
were rarely to be found. This was the violent context in which the Rünnels - Rosa,
Juta and Gerd - came into my life. "Invaded" is actually more accurate.
  Rosa’s enigma, her secret, the visions of a kingdom of justice that obsessed
Gerd, and Juta’s way of dealing with reality have always fascinated me. Particularly
Rosa. The fixed stare that spoke for itself, a strategic distance from the world, how
she constructed her own secret world. On rare occasions, she had to abandon her
private universe and connect with the world outside. When she did, it was with
sobs and wails. She suffered.
  I scratched out The Rünnels, and wrote In the The Righteous Will Be Made
Whole in its place, because this title, for some reason, made me complicitous with
the image of the Rünnels, an image that still invades my dreams. I’ll explain.
  Toward the end of the 1960s, I belonged to a Trotskyist organization that was
principally active in São Paulo. I was sent to Rio de Janeiro to set up a new political
strategy. This action consisted mainly of writing sort of literary pamphlets and
distributing them in bars and restaurants in the south zone of the city. We were
careful not to toss them off any old way in a rush, like most sloppily mimeographed
protest pamphlets of those days. Our pamphlets became very popular and were
widely distributed. They denounced the military government’s corruption and use
of torture, and tried to raise people’s consciousness with light, entertaining articles.
I was put up in Joca’s house, on Visconde de Pirajá Street in Ipanema, whose father
owned a supermarket chain in Rio. Joca was one of our organization’s contacts in
the city. All in absolute secrecy: His parents had no idea of their youngest son’s
political activities. Supposedly, I was his girlfriend from São Paulo. Joca was gay.
  My father had owned an enormous apartment on the Praia do Flamengo, not
far from the Catete Palace. I remember my Mom saying it measured 870 square
meters. Dad frequently invited members of the Coordenação da Mobilizaçõ
Econômica to our house. Getúlio, our president at the time, set up The Committee
for Economic Coordination right after Brazil had declared war against the Axis,
and it was charged with regulating the control, distribution, circulation and
consumption of basic goods. The committee had well-known politicians and public
figures in its membership, such as Oswaldo Aranha, Gustavo Capanema, Salgado
Filho, Henrique Guilhem, Apolônio Sales, and Dutra. I remember that the issue
on the table at one of these meetings was the German invasion of the Brazilian
diplomatic mission in Vichy, France, in November of 1942. Sousa Dantas, who was
the Ambassador, had time to burn codes and documents, but he was detained
along with 26 employees of the Consulate by the Germans in Badegodesber, near
Bonn. I was just about to have my thirteenth birthday, so I was allowed to serve the
whiskey that night of November 24 to our guests. Everybody praised the décor
of the apartment, the spaciousness of the rooms, and the view of Guanabara Bay,
splendid with Sugar Loaf Mountain off to the right. As one of our guests reflected:
You end up having visions and dreams after seeing such a marvelous view.
  It was decided that in order to gain authenticity, our organization’s pamphlets
should have an author. I thought about the Righteous Visionary of the Contestado,
and of his utopian visions. That was what people called Gerd. This reminded me of
our old apartment in Flamengo, so the pamphlets ended up being signed by the
Righteous Visionary of Flamengo. I had my particular universe and visions, too!
This wasn’t exclusive to the Rünnels! We also made our messianic predictions! We
started a rumor that the Visionary of Flamengo was a Antônio Carlo Varginho, who
lived in Encantado, a quiet, modest suburb in Rio’s North Zone, to put the police
on the wrong trail.
  A while later, I had to go into exile along with other militants. We went to Stockholm,
where I lived for two years. I thought that my Brazilian ’companheiros’ were very young,
almost like children, and I got the impression that they knew very little about politics,
ideology, or about life. They displayed some real courage in some daring missions in
Brazil, but it seemed like it was some kind of adolescent game for them. On the other
hand, they evidently thought I was old, and I think, cranky and morose.
  From Stockholm, I moved on to Aarhus, in Denmark, where I taught Latin
American culture at the university, paid by the hour. In Aarbus, people thought I
was a Polish woman whose family had immigrated to Brazil. Their version of my
life story had nothing to do with my own. It was funny. I was the only person who
thought I was Brazilian. That’s also where I met Serge, a Moroccan Jew who held
Belgian citizenship that I married. He ended up being the Advisor of something or
another in the United Nations, and since I was now a Belgian citizen, I was able to
accompany him when he was transferred to New York.
  We rented an apartment in an old brown stone, on the East Side. In spring, I
could walk up to Columbia University even though it was a considerable distance. I
would proceed uptown, going into Harlem. I always liked to pass through the black
neighborhood, defiant and complicitous, ally to the exploited. I can still feel myself
walking through Harlem, with a book by Guimarães Rosa or Jorge Amado (but just in
his first phase!) under my arm, calling attention to my Brazilianess, a matter of pride.
At the first opportunity I let the blacks and latinos know that I am not American, that
I speak Portuguese. I come from Brazil. I’m in exile. In reply I hear Bahia, Rio, samba,
carnival. And, in fact, attitudes shift. I’m treated differently, right away. It’s curious. It
feels like the whole of Harlem sees me as some kind of ally. How many times did I think
that this ghetto community could someday become independent! Like Canudos, the
Contestado, or, at least like a Juliana Republic, all messianic "nations." But on the
lines of my own image of a model political project. With equality and Portuguese
as the official language! For a long time, this daydream, real and vivid, entertained
and calmed me. I had the right to dream my own dreams! Nonetheless, whether in
the United States, in Sweden, in Denmark.... I always felt like Lima Barreto’s eternally
dislocated character, Isaías Caminha: I had the sensation of being in a foreign land1.
  This is the degrading thing about exile: the feeling, down deep, of having been
expelled, thrown out, because your countrymen don’t accept your ideas. You need
someone to pull you up and say: no, no, it was the government that did it, not the people.
The people can’t do anything about it - they have no power! All right, OK, I believe you.
  For Brazilians, exile was also the only opportunity to hear about latinidad.
Almost without exception, my friends were Latin American. We even got to the
point of suggesting that one day we would all meet up in Mérida, in the Venezuelan
Andes, in the Plaza Simón Bolívar. Jaime, who was from that city, promised that
since women all like flowers, to celebrate that happy day we would receive a
bouquet of frailejones that he, himself, had picked in the Andes. (He whispered
in my ear that I would get one just for myself, one with more blossoms, because
frailejones wilted easily. They were prettier in the mountains. Jaime also gave me
a photocopy of the final Die Neue Zeit, from 1917, which was edited by Kautsky.)
Our meeting in Mérida would signify the reconstruction of a new America. Because
there was among us a German journalist, Gudrun, who was always voluptuously
head over heels in love with some Latin American, Jaime proposed that we would
walk a block from the statue of Bolívar in the square, passing by the university, to
place another bouquet on the small monument built to honor Humboldt and Bolívar
by the German colony of Mérida, in the 1930s. Everybody applauded. Gudrun was
pleased, but said that she could never figure out if Bolívar was a monarchist or
a republican. One day, she gave me The Magic Mountain, by Thomas Mann, as
a present, in the original, in German, that she had found in a used bookstore. I
think that was her way to try to buy my indulgence for the way she imagined I
judged her for her Latin lasciviousness. (In truth, I envied her.) In return, one day I
presented her with Dostoievski’s Crime and Punishment, in Portuguese.
  I have decided to no longer see these people. I don’t want them to pity me
in the hospital. A decision that also grieves me, leaving me with some regret. We
were planning a joint seminar on Frida Kahlo’s painting and the mural art of Diego
Rivera. I was also to coordinate a study series on Gonçalves Dias’ I-Juc-Pirama, and
Neruda’s Canto General.
  Today, here in São Paulo, I even thought about going down to Diamante. But I
don’t have the energy, I wouldn’t make it. Would Rosa and Juta still be alive? Maybe it’s
better to let the past lie. Besides which, I don’t have much time left to go back over it.
  My world is finished. Passages from Chekov come to mind and that Brazilian
music sung by Maysa, that begins "My world fell apart." I felt in my guts the free-fall
of a society symbolized by the emptiness of the characters’ lives, mired in social
conventions, in Three Sisters. I’d seen it in New York just before I left for Brazil. In
many ways, the play is identical to The Cherry Orchard and The Seagull. I feel like
a character in Chekov, singing "My world fell apart."
  I found out that Elsa, Dieter and Arcângelo, who had been companheiros in
the struggle in São Paulo, were in exile in Paris. They opened up a bookstore on
the Rue Monsieur le Prince, Noº 7, in the Latin Quarter, which became a kind of
Headquarters for exiled Brazilians in Europe. I never wanted to set foot in it. Ten
years older than I, those three had become involved in a support movement for
Palestinians and in an international network opposed to the dictatorship in Chile,
against General Pinochet. Elsa, Dieter and Arcângelo were the only ones from this
story that I had news of. Of my brother, also, it’s true. Walter Kurt moved to Berlin.
I saw him once, long ago. He made a living selling forged paintings and smuggling
food and household appliances into East Berlin. Serge told me that he was part of
a gang that received stolen cars. I never saw him again.
  I tired to leave everything behind and set myself free like Paquequer and Peri
in José de Alencar’s O Guarani. To begin a new life. But the need to write won’t let
me forget.

1. Trans. note: The author makes references to Brazilian writers and very particular aspects of Brazilian life throughout the book which are essential to the text. The degree to which these will be clarified within the text or by footnotes will be decided once the whole text goes into translation.

Chapter 2

"Italked to Victor today, Juta. He told me that he wants to sell his land, set up a
store in the center of town. But the boundaries are set up all wrong on his land.
It’s not done right. His son Arcângelo is going to study abroad. It seems he’s going
to study plants."
  "He must be needing money, Gerd. It’s good that the boy’s going to study.
Someday Rosa will change. She’ll learn to read. To help in the house. You’ll see.
We’ll have to pay for her studies."
  "With what money, I’d like to know."
  "Victor himself can lend it to us, if it’s not much."
  "I would never accept that, Juta! He comes around here mostly when I’m not
at home. What’s he got to talk to you so much about? It’d be better to ask Ademir,
from the store. We’ll pay him back later."
  "All right. You know that there’s a war going on in Germany, Gerd? Bepi told
me. He came by to offer to sell his horse."
  "That horse is blind in one eye. And lame in the hindquarters, you remember,
Juta. Last night I dreamed again about Rodolfo in the Contestado. He was signaling
with his left arm for me to come close, and holding a bloody machete in his right
hand. There were twenty solders on the ground around him, all with their heads
chopped off. Afterwards, he pointed in the direction of the mount with his finger.
José Maria, the holy man, was up on the peak, surrounded by light. The saint
smiled, his arms opened wide and said, come, come! I tried to go to him, but I when
I walked I seemed to be stuck in the same place. After that, my mother appeared
near him, calling me too. All of a sudden I woke up, Rosa was screaming in her bed,
it seems that she always finds just the right moment to wake me up. That blind
horse is worth nothing, and won’t do for us, Juta!"
  "Bepi also wanted me to tell you that from now on we all have to speak what
they do here, talk in Portuguese. I want to see what’s going to happen with Frau
Bertha. She’ll go mute, she always want to speak German."
  "Mute like Schultz’s daughter, Juta. Or else, she’ll kill herself like that old man."
  "He wasn’t so old, Gerd."
  "What do you mean? Was his wood still hard? And is Victor’s, too?
  "I’m going to see about Rosa. Better than listening to you spout such nonsense,
crazy things, just like that, out of the air."
  "Go ahead, you stupid bitch! You old cow! Bitch! Go get lost with your daughter
once and for all. I’m still going to kill one of you! And then I’m taking out of here!
Heading off to the Fields of Irani in the Contestado. I’ll find justice there!
  Gerd’s tranquility sometimes broke into an unrecognizable rage that took
hours, often days to abate once he disappeared into the forest. Like now, he
crossed over the Diamond River and climbed up the steep hill shouting, cursing
in German or in Portuguese with a heavy, exaggerated accent, exhorting the new
Contestado. Machete in hand, a soggy, hand-rolled cigarette clenched in his teeth.
A cloth bag that Juta had made him hanging from his shoulder. A liter of cachaça
inside it. Swigging mightily from it every two minutes. With every gulp, heightened
rage and a feeling of relief. Until he crashes down, dead drunk. His dog Vinegar
always at his side, his muzzle scarred by a wild boar’s teeth, his left hind paw half
cut off. From his mongrel beginnings, Vinegar had risen to be the best hunting dog
in the area, and now was his owner’s best friend.
  While Gerd was in this state, nobody dared to come near or speak to him. His
roars could be heard hundreds of meters away. His brother, Alfonso Rünnel, had
hung himself in a similar situation. After, however, killing his wife with a shotgun as
well as a black farm worker who had gone after him into the forest with a scythe.
The quadroon’s body was sliced in half. The head thrown far from it. Then Alfonso
hung himself. His tongue hanging out! They only found his decomposing body
seven days later. Only the ten-centimeter scar on his face was still intact.
  Gerd’s enraged and fractious temper had already roared out of control on a
number of occasions. When she could, Juta would pour a tonic based on Maraval
solution down his throat, a treatment that had no effect on him whatsoever. Once
when they were attending a wedding, during the Polterabend, the noisy party on
the night before the wedding ceremony where traditionally friends of the bride
and groom break a few plates to wish the couple luck, Gerd threw two plates
against the wall with such force that Juta, embarrassed, pulled him out by the arm
and they left the party right after. Later, she came back alone for the Katerfrühstük,
the day after the wedding lunch, and apologized to the whole family.
  After his rages in the forest, Gerd would return home around four o’clock in
the morning, or the next day, scratched up, tired and filthy, his hands bruised or
injured. Juta never commented on these fugues. What mattered to her was that
her husband left his rage and rancor in the forest. If possible, tied, chained and
burnt into the trunk of some jebebraju tree. He avoided speaking to her, a pact of
guilty silence that was respected by both wife and daughter. He especially shied
away from Rosa, and for several days would take his meals in the tool shed. His
eyes turned somber, opaque, his gestures in slow motion. A repented rapist, desire
spent, his pleasure ejaculated, spat out into the trash bin. To kill at this moment...
only if he could sweep away everything in front of him forever! The cachaça that lit
his hate and fed his yearnings, frustrations and anxieties gone, only a taste of gall
left in his mouth. A bitter taste. Then daily life would slowly and inexorably dilute
those hours of blind rage. The Diamond River, so recently turbulent and somber,
returned to flow in its transparent, crystalline and pacific bed.
  When Gerd managed to speak to his family again, it was to tell Juta to seek
out Frau Bertha. "A woman to be respected, and who has always been good to
me," he mumbled, looking down at the ground, a deep frown on his face. "One day,
all of this will be transformed into the Fields of Irani in the Contestado, you’ll see!"
he added, almost in a whisper.

to the top