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Malba Tahan, the Brazilian Who Made Algebra Fun

 Malba Tahan, the Brazilian 
  Who Made Algebra Fun

His name was Júlio
César de Mello Souza but he was better
known as Malba Tahan. He wrote over 50 books under his
pseudonym— later incorporated to his identity card. He used
oriental tales for teaching mathematics. His most famous book,
initially published in 1938, was recently on the bestseller list.
By Andréa
Estevão

Since the first half of the 20th century, several generations of Brazilian
youths have been introduced to Arab culture though the most Arab of the Cariocas
(natives of the city of Rio de Janeiro), math teacher Júlio César
de Mello e Souza, better known as Malba Tahan. 

His most famous book,
O Homem que Calculava (The Man Who Counted), which brings adventures
in typical Arab geographical scenarios together with charming solutions to
algebra and arithmetic problems, is already on its 63rd edition by the Brazilian
publishing house Record. 

The book has attained
the feat of still appearing on the top five children’s bestsellers published
in the O Globo newspaper, as recently as May.

In all, Júlio
César / Malba Tahan wrote 103 books, including fiction, textbooks and
scientific books, and sold over 2.6 million copies.

Mathematician Júlio
César de Mello e Souza fell in love with Arab culture as a child, reading
The Thousand and One Nights.  It was in 1919, at 23 years of age,
however, that he delved into studies of Arab language and culture. 

Between 1919 and 1925,
he dedicated himself to reading the Talmud and the Koran, and to learning
the history and geography of the Arab countries.

Such an enterprise becomes
evident in the way he developed his characters, the sensitivity with which
he weaved his dialogues filled with poetry and wisdom; in the verisimilitude
of the scenery described. 

Children and adults alike
become completely involved in the way the author presents how sumptuous a
hall is, or the seduction of a tent filled with turbans, jewels or luscious
fabric.

A great storyteller, had
he been born in Cairo or Constantinople in another time, Júlio César
might have been considered a true cheik el-medah.

In the presentation of
the Brazilian translation of The Thousand and One Nights, by publishing
house Ediouro, he states:

"Legend is the most
delicate expression of popular literature. Man, on the attractive rout of
tales and stories, tries to escape the daily vulgarity, embellishing life
with a dreamed spirituality."

In a statement recorded
at the Image and Sound Museum in Rio de Janeiro, professor Mello e Souza stated
that he chose to write fables and legends as an Arab as no people has ever
surpassed the Arabs in the art of telling stories and in the passion in hearing
them.

Newspaper Debut

Malba Tahan was presented
to the public in Rio de Janeiro in 1925, in newspaper A Noite, where
he wrote a fictitious biography supposedly translated by a fictitious translator,
Breno Alencar Bianco.

Both the writer and the
translator are fruit of the prodigious creativity of Júlio César,
who gave them life and literary production in a column entitled "Tales
of Malba Tahan".

Fictitious character Ali
Lezid Izz Eduim Salim Hark Malba Tahan was born in 1885, in the city of Muzalit,
close to Mecca, having become, at a young age, mayor of El Medina.

Rich, having inherited
money from his father, Tahan travelled various countries including Russia,
India, and Japan. In the "biography," it is also said that Tahan
died in 1921, in the fight for liberation of a tribe in Central Arabia.

Almost all of the 50 books
written under pseudonym Malba Tahan include sheikhs, Bedouins, and caliphs,
and they take place in the desert, in hostels, and palaces in Damascus, Baghdad,
or in Persian villages.

Their books narrate tasty
adventures, full of magic—many of them are inspired on Arab legends and
tales—and many references to typical terms and expressions, such as:
Allahu Abkar! (Allah is the Greatest!) and on the traditional teachings of
the Arab culture.

It is almost an incorrect
statement to say that Malba Tahan is a pseudonym used by Júlio César
de Mello e Souza.

First of all, because
Júlio César called himself Malba Tahan, as did his students
at school Pedro II and at the Institute for Education, and he even stamped
his name in Arabic characters, showing that he had read papers by his students.

Secondly, because popularity
of the name was so great that former Brazilian president Getúlio Vargas
authorised Júlio César to add the name to his identity card.

Thirdly, because his literary
publications and his ideas regarding education and science in general, and
especially mathematics, are internationally referred to Malba Tahan.

All you have to do is
quickly research the Internet to see the importance given to Malba Tahan and
to his bestseller "The Man Who Counted," mentioned in various sites
in various languages, including Greek, German, and Dutch.

Admired by Famous Authors

The Man Who Counted,
published for the first time in 1938, has already been translated to over
12 languages, including English, in both the United States and England, Spanish,
Italian, French, and Catalan.

It received awards by
the Brazilian Academy of Letters and brought him admiration from imaginative
and popular authors including Brazilian Monteiro Lobato (very famous for children’s
books) and Argentine Jorge Luís Borges—the latter a lover of Arab
tales.

The book tells the adventures
of Beremiz Samir, a man with great ability with calculations. Beremiz solved
problems and complicated situations of all styles with great talent, simplicity,
and precision of any nature, with the use of mathematics.

Júlio César
was born on May 6, 1895, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, and died in the Northeastern
state of Pernambuco on June 18, 1974, where he was giving one of his many
and greatly requested talks.

He left important registration
of his life and works: his book of memoirs called Acordaram-me de Madrugada
(They Woke Me Up in the Wee Hours), and his recorded statement at the Image
and Sound Museum (MIS), in Rio de Janeiro.

Before he died, he asked
to be buried without much ado, flowers, or crowns, like a simple person from
the Middle East. So as to justify his desire for no mourning in his honor,
he cited verses by famous Brazilian composer Noel Rosa: "Black clothes
are vanity / for those who dress fancily / my mourning is sorrow / and sorrow
has no color."


Andréa Estevão is a Brazilian reporter. This article was distributed
by ANBA – Brazil-Arab News Agency.

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