With this skillfully written and charming account of several of modern Brazil’s most distinguishing characteristics, novelist John dos Passos may definitely lay additional claim to the status of both amateur historian and Brazilianist. Though obviously not intended as a scholarly work based on accepted research methods, this brief and succinct work nevertheless provides a distinctly valuable service—in it the often harried and weary Latin Americanist may discover exactly the hoped-for competent and up-to-date synthesis of the many and frequently contrasting facets of Latin America’s largest and most important nation.
Brazil on the Move, in the apt evaluation of its publishers, is a “contemporary chronicle.” It is neither a precise history nor a detailed studious analysis. Stemming from the recollections of the author from three well-spaced trips to Brazil, in 1948, 1956, and 1962, it portrays those aspects of the nation’s varied peoples and cultures, economy, and politics, which in the author’s opinion, have emerged most clearly in Brazil’s current surge toward major hemispheric status. In delightfully composed vignettes, for example, the lay reader and the historian both may find refreshing new insights into such vital topics as the growth and present status of Brasília, the plan for national unification through a gigantic roadbuilding program, the undercurrent of discontent in the dry Northeast of the Peasant Leagues and Francisco Julião, the decay and problems of the Amazon’s Green Hell, and personalities such as the dynamic Carlos Lacerda who occupy prime roles in Brazil’s present crisis of competing ideologies.
These topics and numerous others are surveyed by Mr. dos Passos in a style which is both attractive and convincing. In smooth narrative fashion he reports his Brazilian experiences often with rare humor and always with the penetrating observation for which his other works have become celebrated. The reader is made to feel the exuberance of the roadbuilding and mining engineers, the lofty hopes of the urban planners, the determination and devotion to principle of the political crusader in his struggles against corruption, as well as the sense of resignation, if not frustration, of the Amazonian in his unending contest against the jungle. The portrait thus presented is one of a people united only recently in a nationwide project of immense and urgent development, yet facing problems of geography which stagger the imagination. To John dos Passos the outcome is certain—the erstwhile sleeping giant has awakened and is now clearly on the move.
Though equipped with neither index nor bibliography, author dos Passos’ book does contain well-prepared inside cover maps of Brazil and an introductory chapter which admirably summarizes Brazilian historical evolution and rationally sketches the contrasts between both Spanish and Portuguese traditions and New World policies. In brief, here is a work which the prospective lecturer on modern Brazil will welcome with gusto. It will also serve as a delightful and provocative introduction or refresher for the scholar interested in securing a contemporary portrait of Latin America’s Portuguese-speaking other half.