The Brazilian Society at Columbia has held two editions of its Book Club: one during Winter Break 2020-2021 and the other during Spring Break 2021. We met twice over each of these weeks to discuss the texts and how they related to our own experiences with Brazil.
The works we’ve read, Olhos d’água by Conceição Evaristo and Relato de um Certo Oriente by Milton Hatoum, are both pieces of contemporary Brazilian literature. We also plan to read nonmodern literature and nonfiction in future editions. It’s up to the participants! When people are signing up, we ask them to send book suggestions, and from these we choose the one to be read.
Here, you can learn more about the books we’ve discussed:
by Conceição Evaristo
Conceição Evaristo is an Afro-Brazilian woman who was born in Belo Horizonte and spent most of her life in Rio de Janeiro. She’s a writer and literature academic.
Olhos d’água is a collection of short stories on the experiences of several Brazilian marginalized groups. The diverse characters throughout the chapters of the book are fictional, but their stories resemble the people we see all around us in Brazil—and the people who are usually hidden from many of us.
The first short story in the book explains the title of the whole collection. It was named after the narrator’s mother’s eyes, whose constant wetness intrigues and amazes. From there on, we get to know many stories of individual tragedies, told with remarkable literary refinement. The violence, murders, and disillusions in the book are shocking, but strikingly real and necessary to make the reader aware of how much suffering fills the socially vulnerable neighborhoods, namely the favelas, in Brazil.
Relato de um Certo Oriente
by Milton Hatoum
Milton Hatoum is a Brazilian writer, professor, and translator from Manaus. His novel Relato de um Certo Oriente is a story of a woman who returns to Manaus, in the North of Brazil, to explore her Lebanese ancestorship. Therefore, the reader is taken to an exploration of multicultural identities.
Hatoum’s style of prose with long paragraphs and alternating voices gives this piece of literature a unique tone.
In 1990, the title was awarded a prestigious Brazilian book prize, Prêmio Jabuti, in the literary category.