Once again, my novel picked for Rio de Janeiro turned out to cover a much broader space of land than just Rio, but so did our trip, so it worked out quite well. For Rio de Janeiro, or for Brazil, I picked Don Casmurro by Machado de Assis, written in 1899.
We were only in Rio itself for two days but I’m not sure we could afford anymore! It was a phenomenal city with amazing views over the most bizarre geography, but it was also a damn sight more expensive than every other city we had visited so far. From Rio we went to the equally phenomenal Iguassu Falls, hoping for some tropical weather. But of course we arrived the week the region was experiencing freak cold weather.
I found Don Casmurro a little slow to start, and when I was failing to make progress with it I sat down in Iguassu and just decided to power through. Then of course, I began to really enjoy it. Once I again I was confronted of the weight of religion in South American culture, as the protagonist Bentinho tries to resist disobeying his mother’s promise for him to become a Padre but cannot fight his love for childhood sweetheart Capitú nor the fact he has not received ‘the call’.
When the theme of jealously begins to emerge Don Casmurro begins to get really good. It is very dramatic of course; ‘(anything is an excuse to a heart in agony)’ and it’s unlike me to side with a miserable husband over the free, adulterous wife in stories like these, but Bentinho is so miserable that you can’t not join in. Especially when the wife’s lover is who it is – I won’t spoil it. Though you do wonder if it is all just extreme paranoia and jealousy, only actually happening in his head.
Undoubtedly though, the reason I side with Bentinho so much has to be because of the narrative voice. It’s addictive and personal. He makes it clear that every piece of information you hear has passed through him, he is totally biassed. But for some reason, you just let yourself buy into the whole thing. I also love the way he addresses that he is writing it, and writing it to be read too, in moments like:
‘There is some exaggeration in this, but it is good to be overemphatic now and again, to pay off this devil of exactitude that torments me’
‘Perhaps I’ll scratch this out when it goes to press, unless I decide otherwise. If I decide otherwise, it stands. And until then let it stand, for after all it is our defence’.
I can’t say Don Casmurro taught me much about Brazil but it taught me other things and towards the end there, it got me turning pages as quickly as one can on a Kindle.
Rio dog rating: 7/10 – lots of golden retrievers!
Iguassu dog rating: 6/10 – it was going to get a 2 but right as we were getting the bus to the airport I found a dog with bunches in its ears and that, obviously, changed everything.
City by the book:
Cartagena & Márquez
Lima & Llosa
Amazon & Ibbotson
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