Larry Ro­hter

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - Larry Ro­hter


A Bi­og­ra­phy by Lilia M. Sch­warcz and Heloisa M. Star­ling, trans­lated from the Por­tuguese. Far­rar, Straus and Giroux,

761 pp., $40.00

If we were to think of Brazil as a per­son rather than a coun­try, as Lilia Sch­warcz and Heloisa Star­ling en­cour­age us to do in their sweep­ing new his­tory Brazil: A Bi­og­ra­phy, it would be some­one who, at the mo­ment, seems schizophrenic. Con­sider, for ex­am­ple, the Oc­to­ber 28 run-off elec­tion to choose the coun­try’s next pres­i­dent. One can­di­date was a ne­o­fas­cist for­mer army cap­tain with a pen­chant for in­sult­ing Afro-Brazil­ians, women, in­dige­nous peo­ples, and sex­ual mi­nori­ties; a de­clared affin­ity for the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship that ruled the coun­try bru­tally from 1964 to 1985; and a de­sire to fight crime by al­low­ing cit­i­zens to arm them­selves and let­ting trig­ger-happy cops take the law into their own hands. The other can­di­date was the last-minute stand-in for a twoterm for­mer pres­i­dent and still-pop­u­lar left-wing la­bor leader cur­rently serv­ing a twelve-year prison sen­tence for cor­rup­tion, money-laun­der­ing, and bri­betak­ing. Mil­lions of poor Brazil­ians were lifted pre­car­i­ously into the mid­dle class dur­ing his pres­i­dency, but at the same time bil­lions of dol­lars were si­phoned from the pub­lic trea­sury into his party’s cam­paign cof­fers and the pock­ets of its lead­ers.

Faced with that un­palat­able choice, all other op­tions hav­ing been elim­i­nated in first-round bal­lot­ing on Oc­to­ber 7, Brazil­ians elected, by a de­ci­sive ten-point mar­gin, the ex­treme rightwing au­thor­i­tar­ian Jair Bol­sonaro to a four-year term that be­gins Jan­uary 1, thereby also in­au­gu­rat­ing what is cer­tain to be a pe­riod of enor­mous po­lit­i­cal and so­cial stress, un­cer­tainty, and tu­mult. Bol­sonaro, a tru­cu­lent six­tythree-year-old con­gres­sional deputy from a small fringe party whom some have al­ready taken to call­ing “the Trump of the Trop­ics,” owed his as­cent to a coali­tion that in­cluded the São Paulo fi­nan­cial elite, the ru­ral landed in­ter­ests that have dev­as­tated the Ama­zon over the past fifty years, and a grow­ing pop­u­la­tion of evan­gel­i­cals. But what put him over the top was the sup­port of ur­ban mid­dle-class vot­ers dis­gusted by ram­pant cor­rup­tion, ris­ing crime rates, and what at least some of them view as the cod­dling of the darker-skinned poor in re­cent years. Sch­warcz and Star­ling ob­vi­ously could not ad­dress the elec­tion in Brazil: A Bi­og­ra­phy, and Bol­sonaro’s rise has been so un­ex­pected and so swift that his name never ap­pears in their book. But their de­tailed and deeply rea­soned ex­am­i­na­tion of Brazil­ian his­tory—start­ing with the ar­rival on April 22, 1500, of the Por­tuguese no­ble­man and ex­plorer Pe­dro Ál­vares Cabral on the shores of what is to­day Bahia— goes a long way to­ward ex­plain­ing how the world’s fourth-largest democ­racy and eighth-largest econ­omy has come to this un­for­tu­nate and, un­til just a few months ago, un­think­able sit­u­a­tion. In the process, they of­fer some grounds for hope that Brazil may yet emerge from its lat­est cri­sis with its bat­tered demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions still func­tion­ing, but they also sound cau­tion­ary notes based on their close read­ing of its con­flict-rid­den past.

Through­out the coun­try’s his­tory, the au­thors write early in the book, “cer­tain stub­bornly in­sis­tent traits can be ob­served,” per­haps the prin­ci­pal one be­ing “the chal­leng­ing and tor­tu­ous process of build­ing cit­i­zen­ship” so as to in­clude all Brazil­ians, not just those with ac­cess to power and money. No mat­ter what the po­lit­i­cal or so­cial or­der, “au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism and per­sonal in­ter­est have al­ways been deeply rooted,” they con­tinue, “un­der­min­ing the free ex­er­cise of civic power, weak­en­ing pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions and con­se­quently the strug­gle for peo­ple’s rights.” Like the United States, Brazil is a na­tion of im­mi­grants and a coun­try of con­ti­nen­tal di­men­sions. It also shares the stain of the same orig­i­nal sin, slav­ery, ex­cept that in Brazil “the pe­cu­liar in­sti­tu­tion” was far more ex­ten­sive and per­va­sive. Slav­ery there be­gan a full cen­tury ear­lier than in the US, en­dured un­til 1888 (Brazil was the last coun­try in the Western Hemi­sphere to abol­ish it), was found through­out the coun­try rather than be­ing largely con­fined to a sin­gle re­gion, and blighted many more lives: of the es­ti­mated 12 mil­lion Africans trans­ported to the New World as slaves, about one third ended up in Brazil, com­pared to fewer than 500,000 in the United States. In ad­di­tion, en­tire In­dian tribes were sub­ju­gated and shack­led or, if they re­sisted too vig­or­ously, sim­ply ex­ter­mi­nated as part of what Sch­warcz and Star­ling call “a story of geno­cide and con­quest.” These dis­par­i­ties help ex­plain some of the fun­da­men­tal di­ver­gences in the ex­pe­ri­ence and con­se­quences of slav­ery in the two coun­tries. By the early nine­teenth cen­tury, the au­thors note, Rio de Janeiro, then the cap­i­tal, had “the largest con­cen­tra­tion of slaves since an­cient Rome, with the dif­fer­ence that, in Rio de Janeiro, their num­ber equalled the num­ber of in­hab­i­tants of Euro­pean de­scent.” As a re­sult, Brazil claims more peo­ple of African de­scent than any coun­try in Africa ex­cept Nige­ria. To­day, Brazil’s cen­sus has five “color” cat­e­gories, but the ma­jor­ity of the coun­try’s 211 mil­lion peo­ple de­scribe them­selves as ei­ther “brown” (a catchall des­ig­na­tion for mixed-race peo­ple of ev­ery hue and com­bi­na­tion) or “black.”*

*Ac­cord­ing to the most re­cent cen­sus, in 2010, Brazil was 47.7 per­cent white, Yet this nu­mer­i­cal su­pe­ri­or­ity has never trans­lated into po­lit­i­cal or eco­nomic power for blacks and mes­ti­zos, or any­thing even re­motely re­sem­bling so­cial equal­ity. Writ­ing about the early twen­ti­eth cen­tury, Sch­warcz and Star­ling quote an­other scholar’s mor­dant re­mark that “free­dom was black, but equal­ity was white.” What that means, they ex­plain, is that “while white elites en­joyed equal­ity and cit­i­zen­ship and were al­lowed to vote, for­mer slaves were sup­posed to be con­tent with the mere right to come and go.”

A cen­tury later, that strug­gle con­tin­ues. The first two Afro-Brazil­ians to be ap­pointed cab­i­net min­is­ters were both mega-celebri­ties—the soc­cer great Pelé as min­is­ter for sport in 1995 and the bril­liant singer-song­writer Gil­berto Gil as min­is­ter of cul­ture in 2003—and the first black Supreme Court chief jus­tice, Joaquim Bar­bosa, was named in 2003. “The play­ing field is still un­even and ra­cial prej­u­dice is ubiq­ui­tous in pub­lic venues such as restau­rants, clubs, the­aters and foot­ball sta­di­ums, not to men­tion in pri­vate ones,” the au­thors con­clude. “Brazil’s his­tory of slav­ery and its twen­ti­eth-cen­tury dic­ta­tor­ships seem to have left an in­deli­ble mark.”

This has never been an es­pe­cially pop­u­lar—or even widely ac­knowl­edged—view 43.1 per­cent “pardo” (mixed-race), 7.6 per­cent black, 1.2 per­cent Asian, and 0.4 per­cent In­dige­nous. In the cen­sus peo­ple self-iden­tify with re­gard to color, which means that the “white” cat­e­gory in­cludes many peo­ple who might be con­sid­ered mixed-race, and the mixed-race cat­e­gory in­cludes many whom oth­ers would iden­tify as black. in Brazil, as any for­eigner who dares to ques­tion the pre­vail­ing or­tho­doxy will quickly dis­cover. In works rang­ing from Gil­berto Freyre’s The Masters and the Slaves: A Study in the De­vel­op­ment of Brazil­ian Civ­i­liza­tion, first pub­lished in 1933, to a thinly ar­gued 2006 best seller by Ali Kamel, a Brazil­ian of Syr­ian de­scent, called We Are Not Racists, Brazil­ians have been en­cour­aged to think of re­la­tions be­tween the races as be­nign, es­pe­cially in com­par­i­son to other coun­tries, the United States in par­tic­u­lar. But Sch­warcz and Star­ling don’t flinch in the face of the unas­sail­able his­tor­i­cal ev­i­dence to the con­trary; their in­dex in­cludes two pages of ref­er­ences to slav­ery and the way it dom­i­nated and con­tin­ues to per­me­ate Brazil­ian life, in­clud­ing sub­head­ings for “brand­ing of slaves,” “Brazil­ian at­tempts to elim­i­nate his­tory of” slav­ery, “bru­tal treat­ment,” “child slaves,” “death from dis­eases of the New World” and “en­forced prostitution.” “Although slav­ery is no longer prac­tised in Brazil, its legacy casts a long shadow,” they write.

The ex­pe­ri­ence of vi­o­lence and pain is re­peated, dis­persed, and per­sists in mod­ern Brazil­ian so­ci­ety, af­fect­ing so many as­pects of peo­ple’s lives .... The in­deli­ble mark of slav­ery con­di­tions Brazil­ian cul­ture; the coun­try de­fines it­self on the ba­sis of gra­da­tions of skin colour.

Brazil­ians have elected a white woman as pres­i­dent (Dilma Rouss­eff, who was im­peached and re­moved from of­fice in 2016, is the daugh­ter of a Bul­gar­ian im­mi­grant). But they have never had a self-iden­ti­fied AfroBrazil­ian oc­cupy the of­fice (although one early-twen­ti­eth-cen­tury pres­i­dent was widely be­lieved to be “pass­ing” as white and was ridiculed as such in car­toons and song). Bol­sonaro is of Ital­ian and Ger­man de­scent, while his van­quished op­po­nent, for­mer São Paulo mayor and ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter Fer­nando Had­dad, is the son of a Le­banese im­mi­grant, as is the coun­try’s ex­tremely un­pop­u­lar cur­rent pres­i­dent, Michel Te­mer.

Yet in a con­tra­dic­tion that out­siders find hard to fathom, Brazil is also “a coun­try that does not obey the es­tab­lished cor­re­la­tions be­tween the dom­i­na­tor, on the one hand, and the dom­i­nated on the other,” the book cau­tions. African in­flu­ences are present in al­most all as­pects of daily life and are mostly em­braced even by the whitest of Brazil­ians as a point of pride. The mix­ture of races in Brazil is “un­equalled in any other coun­try,” they add, and has “gen­er­ated a so­ci­ety

that was de­fined by mixed mar­riages, rhythms, arts, sports, aro­mas, cui­sine and literary ex­pres­sion,” pro­duc­ing “new cul­tures born from its hy­brid na­ture and va­ri­ety of ex­pe­ri­ences.” Hence the spec­ta­cle of whites who claim “a foot in the kitchen” (a clearly racist slang ex­pres­sion in­di­cat­ing some small por­tion of African ances­try) as a badge of au­then­tic­ity.


Sch­warcz and Star­ling are dis­tin­guished schol­ars with im­por­tant works to their credit. Sch­warcz, a pro­fes­sor of an­thro­pol­ogy at the Univer­sity of São Paulo and a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor at Prince­ton, has writ­ten bi­ogra­phies of Em­peror Pe­dro II, the émi­gré French pain­ter Ni­co­las-An­toine Tau­nay, and the mu­latto writer Lima Bar­reto, as well as pi­o­neer­ing stud­ies of race such as Not Black, Not White, Just the Op­po­site: Color and Race in Brazil­ian So­cia­bil­ity (2013) and The Spec­ta­cle of the Races: Sci­en­tists, In­sti­tu­tions, and the Race Ques­tion in Brazil, 1870– 1930 (1993). Star­ling, a his­to­rian and po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist who teaches at the Fed­eral Univer­sity of Mi­nas Gerais, is the au­thor of Me­mories of Brazil (1999) and The Lords of Gerais (2018) and has edited jour­nals and or­ga­nized con­fer­ences that ex­plore the junc­ture of pol­i­tics and cul­ture in Brazil. In­ter­twined with the long his­tory of ra­cial and so­cial in­equal­ity and ex­ploita­tion they de­scribe is a deep-rooted pat­tern of cor­rup­tion. If mem­bers of the elite were al­lowed to re­gard other hu­man be­ings as their per­sonal prop­erty, then why not also the na­tion’s re­sources or even the state it­self? Brazil was orig­i­nally or­ga­nized as a set of hered­i­tary “cap­tain­cies,” which the au­thors de­fine as a sys­tem that “del­e­gated the task of colonizing and ex­ploit­ing vast ar­eas of ter­ri­tory to pri­vate cit­i­zens” with “supreme pow­ers” over the do­mains they con­trolled. From there, it is not at all dif­fi­cult to draw a line to the greed and malfea­sance of more re­cent klep­to­cratic gov­er­nors, may­ors, and leg­is­la­tors at all lev­els of govern­ment, cul­mi­nat­ing in the whole­sale loot­ing of the pub­lic trea­sury dur­ing the rule of the Work­ers’ Party from 2003 to 2016, when Luiz Iná­cio Lula da Silva and Rouss­eff were in of­fice.

Tellingly, the au­thors note that while slave re­bel­lions were fre­quent dur­ing colo­nial times, the first ma­jor, though ul­ti­mately un­suc­cess­ful, up­ris­ing against Por­tuguese rule—which took place in Star­ling’s home state of Mi­nas Gerais (Por­tugese for “Gen­eral Mines”) in 1789 and was in­spired by the ex­am­ple of Amer­ica’s found­ing fa­thers—had lead­ers who were as much op­por­tunists as pa­tri­ots. “Most of the con­spir­a­tors were in­volved in some way or other with the smug­gling of gold and di­a­monds.” One, a priest, is de­scribed as hav­ing “spent much of his life de­fraud­ing the Crown” by pro­duc­ing coun­ter­feit cur­rency, brib­ing civil and ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal au­thor­i­ties, and in­ge­niously di­vert­ing di­a­monds “from the of­fi­cial route to Lis­bon to a clan­des­tine one that ended in Am­s­ter­dam.”

When in­de­pen­dence was fi­nally achieved in 1822, it came in a form that dis­tin­guished Brazil from the rest of the Western Hemi­sphere. Flee­ing an in­va­sion by Napoleon’s troops in 1807, the Por­tuguese royal fam­ily and court sailed to Rio de Janeiro, in­stantly chang­ing Brazil’s sta­tus from colony to seat of a global em­pire in which “Por­tu­gal had been rel­e­gated to a se­condary po­si­tion within its own im­pe­rial sys­tem.” King João VI re­turned to Lis­bon after the Lib­eral Rev­o­lu­tion of 1820 broke out, while his son and heir, Pe­dro, re­mained in Brazil as re­gent. Two years later he de­clared Brazil’s in­de­pen­dence and be­came its first em­peror. Rev­o­lu­tion­ary up­heaval and the po­lit­i­cal frag­men­ta­tion that soon af­flicted Span­ish Amer­ica were thus avoided, with the monar­chy pro­vid­ing a sym­bol of na­tional unity for nearly sev­enty years. But that sta­bil­ity came with a high price: the same tiny elite re­mained in con­trol, largely hos­tile to new ideas and ea­ger to guard its priv­i­leges.

After the monar­chy was over­thrown in a mil­i­tary coup in Novem­ber 1889 and a repub­lic dom­i­nated by cof­fee and sugar barons re­placed it, newly freed slaves were mostly left to fend for them­selves, since the new regime pre­ferred to de­vote its money and at­ten­tion to at­tract­ing im­mi­grants from Eu­rope, the Mid­dle East, and Ja­pan, both to “lighten” the pop­u­la­tion’s skin color and to pro­vide la­bor in fields and fac­to­ries. After abo­li­tion was de­creed by Princess Is­abel while her fa­ther was abroad and she was act­ing as the im­pe­rial re­gent, the au­thors note, “black peo­ple were treated with a kind of silent and per­verse prej­u­dice.”

Two par­al­lel pro­cesses were at work: “An em­pha­sis on the so-called in­fe­ri­or­ity of blacks and mes­ti­zos, and an at­tempt to elim­i­nate the coun­try’s his­tory of slav­ery and its legacy.” Treated as “sub-cit­i­zens,” “non-whites were thought to be lazy, im­moral and so­cially dis­or­ga­nized.” Echoes of such at­ti­tudes per­sist to­day, lurk­ing at the back of the Brazil­ian psy­che. In Au­gust, for ex­am­ple, Bol­sonaro’s run­ning mate, the re­tired gen­eral Hamil­ton Mourão—Brazil­ians are fond of nam­ing their chil­dren after his­tor­i­cal fig­ures like Wash­ing­ton, Emer­son, Lafayette, Welling­ton, or even De­mos­thenes, Per­i­cles, and Cicero—said that the coun­try’s main prob­lem was that it had been be­queathed not just “an Ibe­rian cul­ture of priv­i­lege,” a state­ment with which few would dis­agree, but also “a cer­tain her­itage of in­do­lence, which comes from the In­di­ans” as well as a tra­di­tion of “shift­less­ness and dis­hon­esty, which orig­i­nates with the African. That is our melt­ing pot.”

The racially loaded word Mourão used to de­scribe the be­hav­ior of Brazil­ian blacks, ma­lan­dragem, ap­pears in the ti­tle of one of Sch­warcz and Star­ling’s chap­ters: “Samba, Ma­lan­dragem, Au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism: The Birth of Mod­ern Brazil.” They de­fine ma­lan­dragem both as the con­duct of “a per­son who lived on the bor­der­line be­tween le­gal­ity and il­le­gal­ity,” sur­viv­ing on his wits, and also as “a po­lit­i­cal choice, char­ac­ter­ized by a dis­dain for the world of work.” It is a strat­egy, in other words, adopted by those at the bot­tom of the so­cial and eco­nomic lad­der in the ab­sence of le­git­i­mate op­por­tu­ni­ties for ad­vance­ment, and it’s not all that dif­fer­ent from the get-rich-quick men­tal­ity of the grandees who con­trolled the

coun­try for five hun­dred years. That helps ex­plain an old Brazil­ian proverb trans­lated in the book as “steal a lit­tle, you’re a thief, steal a lot and you’re a chief.”

In gen­eral, Sch­warcz and Star­ling main­tain, Brazil is “a coun­try on the look­out for the daily mir­a­cle, or some un­ex­pected saviour.” Co­in­ci­den­tally, Bol­sonaro’s mid­dle name is Mes­sias, the Por­tuguese word for “mes­siah,” and he em­bod­ies a fa­mil­iar “I alone can fix it” type that Brazil­ians sar­cas­ti­cally re­fer to as “the sav­ior of the Father­land.” “Peo­ple cross their fin­gers in the hope that some mag­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion will fall from the skies,” the au­thors write, thereby “al­le­vi­at­ing malaise and solv­ing all prob­lems.” As a re­sult, “im­me­di­atism takes the place of plan­ning sub­stan­tive, long-term changes.”

This is not the first time the coun­try has shown a fond­ness for a strong­man. Brazil: A Bi­og­ra­phy de­votes two sub­stan­tial chap­ters to Getúlio Var­gas, the most im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal fig­ure in mod­ern Brazil­ian his­tory, who ruled as a dic­ta­tor from 1930 to 1945 and then re­turned tri­umphantly to power after be­ing elected pres­i­dent in 1950, only to com­mit sui­cide in of­fice four years later. “Var­gas was a highly skilled politi­cian, but he was au­thor­i­tar­ian,” Sch­warcz and Star­ling write. “Ac­cus­tomed to dic­ta­to­rial so­lu­tions, con­fi­dent in his own charisma, widely ex­pe­ri­enced in up­ris­ings and coups d’état, he sim­ply was not cut out for work­ing in a demo­cratic en­vi­ron­ment.” They also sin­gle out two more re­cent pres­i­dents, Fer­nando Col­lor and Jânio Quadros, as be­ing grain from the same sack, to use a Brazil­ian ex­pres­sion: “They both had an in­cli­na­tion for histri­on­ics, con­tempt for politi­cians, dis­dain for Congress, a moral vi­sion for the coun­try, and an au­thor­i­tar­ian style.”


Brazil: A Bi­og­ra­phy is com­pre­hen­sive, it is not all-in­clu­sive, and con­tains some puz­zling omis­sions. Sch­warcz and Star­ling wisely do not limit their fo­cus to pol­i­tics and eco­nomics, of­fer­ing highly read­able sum­maries of im­por­tant literary, mu­si­cal, ar­chi­tec­tural, and even culi­nary fig­ures and move­ments. They dis­cuss cul­tural achieve­ments rang­ing from the Brazil­ian Baroque of the eigh­teenth cen­tury and the ro­man­tic In­di­an­ist nov­els and op­eras of the mid-nine­teenth cen­tury to the Mod­ernist painters and writ­ers of the 1920s and the Trop­i­cal­is­tas of the 1960s and 1970s. (Cu­ri­ously, though, nei­ther the nov­el­ist Clarice Lis­pec­tor nor the mul­ti­me­dia artist Hélio Oiti­cica, both now seen abroad as ma­jor fig­ures, makes an ap­pear­ance in the book.)

Brazil­ians have al­ways wanted their coun­try to be taken se­ri­ously, to be seen not just as a strong­hold of soc­cer and samba. But given the cen­tral­ity of soc­cer in Brazil­ian daily life, es­pe­cially as a sym­bol of pride and mastery, it is sur­pris­ing that nowhere in the book’s six hun­dred pages of text is Pelé men­tioned; in gen­eral the sport it­self, which along with the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try was tra­di­tion­ally one of the only av­enues for Afro-Brazil­ians to rise so­cially and eco­nom­i­cally, re­ceives short shrift. The au­thors ac­knowl­edge that soc­cer is “an iconic metaphor for Brazil­ian na­tion­al­ity,” but the only soc­cer stars they ref­er­ence are Sócrates and Reinaldo, and then only for their po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ties. I would also like to have seen some dis­cus­sion of the im­por­tance of the semi-of­fi­cial death squads that op­er­ated with im­punity dur­ing the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor­ship and over the decades evolved into pri­vate “mili­tias,” which strongly sup­ported Bol­sonaro. More at­ten­tion could have been paid to Brazil’s home­grown en­vi­ron­men­tal move­ment. And what­ever hap­pened to the very use­ful chronol­ogy, set­ting de­vel­op­ments in Brazil along­side oth­ers around the world, that ap­pears at the back of the Brazil­ian edi­tion?

Brazil: A Bi­og­ra­phy reads as if it were trans­lated by com­mit­tee (no in­di­vid­ual trans­la­tor is cred­ited on the ti­tle page). Terms with es­tab­lished mean­ings in Por­tuguese are trans­lated one way in one chap­ter, only to be ren­dered as some­thing dif­fer­ent in an­other, and some­times the choices seem ques­tion­able or awk­ward. “The Brazil­ian imag­i­nary,” for in­stance, ap­pears re­peat­edly through­out the book, as a lit­eral equiv­a­lent of the com­mon phrase o imag­inário brasileiro. But a more col­lo­quial, less jar­gonis­tic ver­sion would be some­thing like the “na­tional mem­ory” or “col­lec­tive imag­i­na­tion.” In some later chap­ters, the phrase “col­lec­tive mem­ory” does ap­pear. So why not be con­sis­tent?

The orig­i­nal Por­tuguese-lan­guage edi­tion of Brazil: A Bi­og­ra­phy, pub­lished in 2015, ended in 1994, the year that Fer­nando Hen­rique Car­doso was elected pres­i­dent and a new cur­rency, the real, was in­tro­duced. That year was cho­sen, the au­thors ex­plain, be­cause it “marked the fi­nal phase of de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion after the dic­ta­tor­ship” that had col­lapsed a decade ear­lier. De­vel­op­ments since then, they ar­gue, more prop­erly be­long to the realm of cur­rent af­fairs be­cause they are “yet to be fully felt and...mark the be­gin­ning of a new phase in the coun­try’s his­tory.” They wrote in 2015 that “his­tory is the only re­source Brazil can rely on to lend a fu­ture to the coun­try’s past, and, for that rea­son, our his­tory draws to a close here.”

But the Amer­i­can edi­tion of Brazil: A Bi­og­ra­phy in­cludes a wel­come fif­teen-page af­ter­word, dated Au­gust 2017, that serves as a help­ful guide to re­cent de­vel­op­ments and takes the au­thors’ anal­y­sis past the point by which three con­sec­u­tive pop­u­larly elected civil­ian pres­i­dents had each won two terms. This was a first in Brazil­ian his­tory and a promis­ing sign that demo­cratic val­ues were tak­ing root. Other pos­i­tive signs abounded dur­ing this twenty-year pe­riod: eco­nomic in­equal­ity be­gan to lessen un­der Car­doso, a so­ci­ol­o­gist turned politi­cian, and con­tin­ued un­der the now-jailed Lula and Rouss­eff, his hand-picked suc­ces­sor. That brought the au­thors and their coun­try to 2014, when ev­ery­thing be­gan to fall apart and the scan­dal in­volv­ing the theft of bil­lions of dol­lars from Petro­bras, the state oil com­pany, and other govern­ment agen­cies came to light. Shortly be­fore this, “a per­va­sive ha­tred di­rected to­wards politi­cians sur­faced, and ex­ploded,” they write, and the na­tional mood over the past four years has shifted from per­pet­ual op­ti­mism to un­re­lent­ing bit­ter­ness and un­bri­dled anger.

“Op­er­a­tion Car Wash,” the in­ves­ti­ga­tion that un­cov­ered the cor­rup-

tion, could be con­sid­ered a tri­umph of ac­count­abil­ity and the rule of law, though Sch­warcz and Star­ling are skep­ti­cal, and com­plain that “rou­tine pro­ce­dures in ad­her­ence to the rule of law were used to serve in­ter­ests con­trary to the demo­cratic val­ues pre­served in our in­sti­tu­tions,” since such ma­neu­vers were “jus­ti­fied by a congress whose mem­bers were in large part ac­cused of cor­rup­tion.” For the first time in Brazil’s his­tory, a for­mer head of state was con­victed of crimes com­mit­ted while in of­fice, as were a re­cent pres­i­dent of the lower house of congress and nu­mer­ous pow­er­ful and wealthy busi­ness­men, who have been forced to re­turn the fi­nan­cial re­wards of their crimes. Pros­e­cu­tors also seem to be clos­ing in on other al­leged of­fend­ers, in­clud­ing Pres­i­dent Te­mer and the le­gion of elected of­fi­cials im­pli­cated in the scan­dal who were de­ci­sively de­feated in Oc­to­ber’s elec­tion and will now lose their con­gres­sional im­mu­nity.

And yet, as the au­thors note, “although democ­racy has moved for­ward, the Repub­lic has stayed on the draw­ing board. A repub­lic is not only a po­lit­i­cal regime—it is the res pub­lica: that which be­longs to the pub­lic, that which is in the pub­lic do­main, that which is in the com­mon in­ter­est, as op­posed to the in­ter­ests of pri­vate par­ties.” The repub­lic’s “great­est en­emy is cor­rup­tion,” they ob­served in 2015, be­fore is­su­ing a warn­ing that now seems prophetic: “There is, how­ever, a risk if the in­dig­na­tion over cor­rup­tion be­comes the rai­son d’être of po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment. Peo­ple could turn away from pol­i­tics and par­tic­i­pa­tion in pub­lic life, which would lead to a loss in cred­i­bil­ity of the demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions.” With the vic­tory of Jair Bol­sonaro and the mot­ley band of au­thor­i­tar­i­ans, cranks, and grifters who sur­round him and are likely to com­pose his cab­i­net, that is ex­actly where Brazil finds it­self late in 2018: pro­foundly dis­en­chanted and once again ex­pect­ing a mes­siah to put things right.

When­ever I am in Rio de Janeiro, I make it a point to stop by the Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art to look at my fa­vorite work there: a 1972 col­lage by Wes­ley Duke Lee, a de­scen­dant of the Con­fed­er­ate sym­pa­thiz­ers who fled to São Paulo after the Amer­i­can Civil War, many of whom brought their slaves with them. On the top half of a scratched and rusted metal plate is en­graved the green and yel­low Brazil­ian flag, with a faded group por­trait at the cen­ter re­plac­ing the na­tional motto “Or­der and Progress,” while the bot­tom half con­sists of a sin­gle phrase printed in large black let­ters: “TO­DAY IS AL­WAYS YES­TER­DAY.” That sen­ti­ment may well be true of just about any coun­try—it was an Amer­i­can, Wil­liam Faulkner, who wrote that “the past is never dead. It’s not even past”—but it seems es­pe­cially ap­pli­ca­ble to Brazil, as Sch­warcz and Star­ling make clear in their il­lu­mi­nat­ing, en­gross­ing, and con­sis­tently thought­ful book.

Jair Bol­sonaro

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