It is a well-accepted fact that most pregnancies have a gestation period of nine months. This is also the amount of time which journalist and author Fausto Wolff, 56, took bearing the 572 pages of A Mão Esquerda (The Left Hand) -- a mixture of romance and auto-biography published by Civilização Brasileira (Brazilian Civilization) in Rio de Janeiro which anticipates an up-coming publication party in Porto Alegre, capital of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, in the Southern tip of Brazil. The papyrus-child generated by this Gaúcho (people originally from that state) of German heritage, measuring close to two meters (6"6' tall), took 40 years to reach maturity. But like the best of wines, A Mão Esquerda has a distinctive and notable flavor.
The book recites the adventures of the Von Traurigzeit family, Wolff's own lineage in real life, from the sixteenth century up to 1995 through the eyes of Pérsio, the single protagonist who is the author himself. The narrative is construed in original form with continuing alternation of characters in charge of the action, as well as the apparition of Mão Esquerda, a particular character created in an article for Pasquim (tabloid weekly newspaper published during the military take-over of 1964 which played a key role in the resistance against the regime being imposed by the government) who proceeds to eliminate acquaintances, politicians, bankers and newspaper editors. "He [Mão Esquerda] represents the collective unconsciousness", Wolff remarks jokingly.
The book breaks away from a strict chronological sequence, and frequent parallels are made between the plot of the story and the current political issues taking place in the country. Unpresumptuously, the author insistently affirms he only agreed with the publication of the book after submitting it to "several friends who write better than I do". Among these are Carlos Heitor Cony, Jânio de Freitas and Millôr Fernandes (all well-established writers in the Brazilian literary community).
Born into an underprivileged family, Fausto Wolff learned how to read at the age of five, and saw in that his only ticket out of poverty. Through reading a considerable amount and variety of literature, he soon fell in love with journalism. He was actively involved with both theater and film, and also became fluent in six distinct languages. Wolff initiated his career at the age of fourteen as a police reporter for Diário de Notícias (Daily News), a local paper in the city of Porto Alegre.
A man with firm conviction, Wolff's independence annoyed many, and in 42 years of his profession few were the times when he stood in good terms with his bosses. Currently, however, this is certainly not the case. "The book met all my expectations much due to Ênio Silveira -- editor of Civilização Brasileira who recently died and to whom this book is dedicated -- who so greatly desired to publish this work and to Salomão who is building an exemplary publishing house. I feel good working in an environment where the people value my work and pay me appropriately", says Wolff.
The disagreements with the bosses did not deter Fausto Wolff from becoming a renowned journalist. A number of his interviews, like the first the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat granted to a Latin-American reporter, as well as the one with Mariel Mariscot done two weeks prior to the legendary criminal's death, have become part of the Brazilian press' history. But it was in Pasquim that Wolff got to experience total freedom in journalism. "I left Brazil in 1968 and moved to Rome where I worked as an international correspondent to Pasquim. The newspaper was spawned by journalists and we were free to write. From a certain perspective Pasquim was detrimental because never again was I able to write without such total freedom", he notes.
His relocating to Rome was not a personal choice. In 1968 the military dictatorship imposed the AI-5 (Institutional Act no. 5 which granted the executive branch of the government power over all issues. This Act followed the Complementary Act no. 38, issued previously that same year, which shut down Congress, destabilizing the balance among the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches of the government), leaving few-to-no options for those who, like Wolff, opposed the regime. Politically active and engaged -- he supports communism and is filiated with PDT, Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workmen's Party) -- Wolff discovered he was to be imprisoned and so headed to the airport to escape. He also lived in Denmark, which he considers to be his second home, traveled the world and only returned to Brazil in 1978.
Fausto Wolff firmly believes that his time in exile, and primarily the long existence of the Brazilian dictatorship, could have been significantly reduced if the press had taken a more aggressive stand against the regime. "I think the dictatorship lasted as long as it did much due to the appease of the press. The Brazilian press did not fight as much as it could have", he expresses. Yet, he opens a safety clause for those who did put up a battle, himself among them. After the military took over in 1964, Wolff expressed his discontentment by editing the first socialist newspaper in Brazil -- the Tribuna Socialista (Socialist Tribune).
Today, though distant from the press, Wolff remains attentive and with the same independence which characterized his professional existence. "My outlook on things has changed tremendously. I think we are in a swamp, we've lost sight of the Brazilian citizen. The country has lost its culture, its press, its music. As you open a newspaper or a magazine, you no longer recognize the country portrayed. The current status-quo is much worse than that of twenty years ago. The population was much more politically aware and involved. Today, for instance, the columnists talk about New York, about Paris. I don't want to know about that. What interests me is the 12 year old girl who is falling victim of child prostitution throughout the country, the homeless; that's what I want to know. That is what makes my country; those are the people who interest me. I won't say it is for these people that I write to, but it is in their behalf that I do", the author protests.
A Mão Esquerda is the manner Fausto Wolff found to contribute to the ending of what he calls "the fear imposed by society". It's his way to praise the freedom of mankind; and to that concept of freedom he dedicates the poem "Viva a Liberdade" (Cheers to Liberty) -- a summary of opinions contained in the book -- which he insists in not publishing separately, depriving the readers of one additional opportunity to enjoy the reading of his text.
Translation by Daniela Lace