Dr. Heloisa Prieto is one of Brazil’s most celebrated children and YA authors. As a teen-age she lived in Michigan and this is the place where she fell in love with literature and wrote her first short story. Back in Brazil, she worked as a translator of classical authors and a preschool teacher.
Her first invitation to write children’s literature came from Lilia Schwarcz, the editor of Companhia das Letrinhas. She has published 91 titles now, and sold over two million books in her native country.
Her Mano series of YA novels inspired the Time Warner movie The Best Things in the World. Mata published by Companhia das Letras was awarded the best book of folklore by UNBE. In 2022 she had 8 titles selected for the PNLD program of public schools purchases and she also published 1,002 Ghosts (Editora Seguinte).
She has spent a lifetime researching myths and legends-both ancient and modern-and organizing and curating collections of cross-cultural interest. She has created and organized numerous creative writing workshops for children, teenagers, and adults.
Heloisa also has a PhD in French literature (University of São Paulo) and a master’s degree in semiotics (Catholic University of São Paulo).The Musician, her upcoming book by Koehlerbooks, will be her first work published in the US.
It presents an extraordinary meeting between a young Guarani xaman and an eighteen years old, rich, famous, broken spirited musician, a magical realism narrative meant as a homage to the wise teachings of Brazilian originary peoples.
Thomas sat on a wooden bench next to Marlui and several other young people from her community. Thick, smoky shadows circulated around the bodies of several other singers slowly moving inside the empty space of the praying house. He had expected to be taken to a regular temple, full of statues and sculptures, maybe intricate mosaic drawings on the floor. But no. Clay walls and a straw roof covered a totally empty space. At its center, there was a stool on which a lovely girl sat with her eyes closed while Popygua puffed clouds of smoke over her head.
“Listen,” said Marlui. “This is a healing ceremony.”
Thomas watched while a few young people slowly danced around Popygua, smoking their pipes, eyes closed, movements so precise they would not stumble or fall.
“Can I join them?” asked Thomas.
“No. Unless Grandpa invites you to do it. You should not touch them either. Their senses are heightened now,” said Marlui.
Some kids sat on a straw mat and started playing drums. Three others played guitars. The music was mesmerizing, somehow echoing the melodious fragments Thomas had been playing that afternoon. The slow, invigorating rhythm seemed to bring waves of enthusiasm and instant happiness to his heart.
“This is so amazing,” he kept on saying, over and over, no matter how many times Marlui begged him to keep quiet.
Popygua gestured to the girl to leave her seat and rest on an empty straw mat. He smiled at Thomas and approached him.
“Welcome, my boy.”
Thomas held his guitar, touched its strings, and would not stop talking. He told Popygua, “This is so fantastic! The singing, the magical atmosphere. I feel renewed already. I have been healed. I feel so good. I want to be a part of this ceremony. Can I play while you sing, Popygua? I would really be honored. I want to be able to share this moment with all of you. It would be my sincere gift, my contribution.”
Popygua interrupted Thomas, “No. You cannot play.”
“No?” Thomas felt a myriad of emotions—disappointment, despair, deep rejection, and yet, there was also a weird, unexpected sense of relief.
“Just listen, my boy. You must listen again . . . that’s all.”
At a loss for words, Thomas placed his six-string guitar over his lap and listened. Popygua went back to the center of the circle and sang with full lungs. His voice was no longer human, resonating the cry of some mythical and eternal bird. Thomas’s whole body shivered, and he closed his eyes. There he was—flying over the treetops. He could hear every single movement of the monkeys jumping over the benches. He could hear a million birds’ songs. He could capture the subtle music emanating from the dew falling over shining leaves. The snapping trunks seemed to send him reassuring messages of peace. His eyes captured new shades of color in the night, grass spread out in front of him, and he felt his body running so fast, crossing tracks, sniffing scents and floral aromas. He opened his eyes again, expecting to find himself back in the praying house with Marlui, but what greeted him were his two naked feet on a dirt floor. His toes started to grow, to reach into the earth and themselves as long roots. What should feel like a nightmare was just the opposite. For the first time in his entire life, Thomas felt such a piercing will to really live and experience life and its true meaning. All he wanted to do was sit there and be . . .
An Interview with Heloisa Prieto
The Musician is your first novel that was originally written in English. What made you decide to do that for this novel?
When indigenous rights to their land were violently threatened, I decided to create a narrative in which a contemporary and extremely successful young musician only finds peace by valuing and tuning to the rain forest dwellers mind set. My wish was to share, by the means of a contemporary fable, the relevance of the Guarani ecological way of thinking.
Brazilian mythology plays a large part in The Musician. What drew you to these myths?
My father used to tell me that “when human madness harms the planet to catastrophic proportions, the indigenous people will take the lead, because they will be the only ones who can find the path under the stars”.
All along the years I spent listening to narratives from Brazilian indigenous authors, I realized their myths and legends focus on acceptance, inclusion and deep connection with Nature. Thomas is a sensitive artist whose heart is called by the forest without him knowing it. His inner call which will be sensed by beautiful Marlui will break the contemporary paradigm of early fame/untimely death.
In order to intertwine ancient myths with urban characters, I chose to tell the stories through the eyes of 5 different characters, whereas keeping the pace of life at risk thriller.
What kind of research went into writing this novel?
My father, Luiz, was a great admirer of indigenous traditions. As a boy he made friends with people from the Guarani village and their teachings deeply influenced him. As an adult, he traveled to the Xavantes nation yearly. I heard his tales, his experiences among them and inherited his views.
For thirty years now I have been giving my contribution by curating indigenous authors and translating their tales. Some years ago, when Estas Tonne came to Brazil, he played at the village and spoke to their healer. I was fascinated by the Guarani approach to sound healing. The chapter 5 strings was inspired by an actual experience at the praying house.
This is your adult debut after a successful career writing children’s’ books. How did writing this novel differ from writing your others?
In Brazil I had been publishing both children’s books and YA novels. Lenora, my first gothic novel, had been inspired by Edgard Allan Poe’s works, yet it took place in Florianópolis, a tropical beach. When I first submitted The Musician to Koehler’s team I thought I had written another YA book, a thriller in a Brazilian scenario. However, maybe due to the choice for 5 different points of views, the retelling of Guarani myths and teachings in a contemporary scenario, editors thought the book should not be limited to a specific target reader. Although I love writing about and for the youth, I took it as a compliment in the sense that the narrative was considered all inclusive.
What do you hope your readers take away from Thomas, Marlui, and the other main characters?
Poetry, beauty and peace can only be seized if we have “eyes to see” them. As in the rainforest beauty derives from diversity. Each character is meant to share a totally new horizon in order to enlarge one’s inner landscape. What is a happy ending after all? Sometimes questions are more meaningful than answers. Life is a constant riddle whose answers can move us towards surprising scenarios.
The Musician, written by Heloisa Prieto, prefaced by Estas Tonne. https://heloisaprieto.com/