Bernardo Carvalho: Brazil’s Contemporary Joseph Conrad

Journalist, adventurer, curiosity seeker, novelist

Brazilian readers took notice of Bernardo Carvalho’s talent in the 1980s, on the pages of the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper — in which the Rio de Janeiro – born writer proved himself as an eloquent correspondent from Paris and New York and then editor of the cultural supplement Folhetim. But his first book, a short story collection called Aberração (Aberration) wasn’t published until 1993, the same year he completed a masters degree in cinema from the University of São Paulo.

Since then, Carvalho has produced a mesmerizing canon of literature, one that displays the curiosity of a reporter and captivating storytelling skills.

Bernardo Carvalho’s recent books are published by Companhia das Letras (photo by Adriana Vichi)

From the mysteries of distant Mongolia — depicted in his novel Mongólia, which won the 2004 Jabuti Prize, an important literary prize in Brazil — to the surprising insight into Brazil’s indigenous population in Nove noites (Nine Nights), readers are inevitably transformed after taking a journey alongside Carvalho.

In the new Machado de Assis magazine, Irish philosopher Anthony Doyle translated an excerpt of Carvalho’s 2009 novel O filho da mãe (Motherland). The book is set against the backdrop of the Second Chechen War in 2003, and the action, as is usual in Carvalho’s books, spirals out across time and space, traveling to, among other locales, the Amazon rainforest and the Sea of Japan.

Another trademark of the author is the strength of his characters, who are well-constructed and multifaceted. “Mothers have a lot more to do with war than you’d imagine,” says one of the characters at a certain point, and the book is, in a sense, a poetic demonstration of precisely that.

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