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The Stone Raft is the good old José Saramago

Saramago’s style is a cross between the late Thomas Bernhard
and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He is the live proof that magic realism doesn’t
begin and end with One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Bondo Wyszpolski

Saramago’s style is a cross between the late Thomas Bernhard
and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He is the live proof that magic realism doesn’t
begin and end with One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Bondo Wyszpolski

    The Iberian peninsula (Spain and Portugal) is about to drift away from
    the rest of Europe. “Those who are curious, not to say skeptical,
    will want to know what is causing all these serious developments, as if
    the simple breaking up of the Pyrenees were not enough for them, with rivers
    turning into waterfalls and tides advancing several kilometers inland,
    after a recession that has lasted millions of years. At this point the
    hand falters, how can it plausibly write the words that are about to follow,
    words that will inevitably throw everything into jeopardy, all the more
    so since it is becoming extremely difficult, should such a thing ever be
    possible in life, to separate truth from fantasy.”

    All of José Saramago’s novels are fables, if not always by virtue
    of the subject matter than by virtue of the rhythm and cadence of his prose.
    When we hold one of them open and begin reading — whether it’s The
    Stone Raft
    or its predecessors, Baltasar and Blimunda, The
    Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis
    , The Gospel According to Jesus
    Christ
    — it’s like having a musical score in front of our eyes and
    the sudden gift of being able to imagine the sound of the notes, the chords,
    the instruments.

    As for the style of Saramago’s prose, it’s a cross between the late
    Thomas Bernhard and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Maybe you haven’t read Bernhard?
    Then imagine an Austrian intellectual writing The Autumn of the Patriarch.
    There’s a cascade of literary rhythm and the drumbeats to move it along,
    and the realization that magic realism doesn’t begin and end with One
    Hundred Years of Solitude
    .

    Just before the first cracks appear in the Pyrenees separating France
    and Spain, Joana Carda scratches the earth of Carbiere and all the mute
    dogs set to howling; Joaquim Sassa picks up a heavy stone — and hurls
    it far into the Atlantic; Pedro Orce stands up and he’ll forever feel the
    ground trembling; José Anaico goes for a walk and a flock of starlings
    begins to follow him; and Maria Guavaira begins to unravel a sock only
    to find that there’s no end to the thread.

    These characters will seek out and encounter one another as the erstwhile
    peninsula unmoors and begins sailing west at about 18 kilometers a day.
    That’s not all that fast, but soon enough there’s a mass exodus from Lisbon,
    Oporto, Coimbra and other coastal cities since nobody wants to be in the
    front row when Portugal plows into the Azores. Before that crisis intensifies,
    however, Joaquim Sassa has heard about and found José Anaico, the
    two of them travel from Portugal to Spain to find old Pedro Orce, these
    three then return to Portugal where they meet Joana Carda in Lisbon, and
    now this unlikely quartet is driving north, to the site where Joana Carda
    had drawn the line in the soil with an elm branch.

    They find the spot, they investigate it, if standing around being mystified
    can be called investigation, and as they leave they encounter a dog with
    a blue thread hanging from its mouth. Somehow, the dog convinces them to
    follow him in their jalopy. There’s a great deal of subtle, wry, or understated
    humor as the pilgrimage once more gets underway.

    “For the second time, Joaquim Sassa said that this was utter madness,
    trailing after a stupid dog to the ends of the earth without knowing why
    or for what purpose, to which Pedro Orce replied abruptly, betraying his
    annoyance, Scarcely to the ends of the earth, we’ll reach the sea before
    then.. And in this fashion they arrive in Galicia, northeast of Santiago
    de Compostela, stopping only when they approach the doorstep of Maria Guavaira,
    the woman who’d begun to unravel a sock to no avail.

    This review, long enough already, would be twice as long if I explained
    the personal relationships that develop as the characters come to know
    one another. Even the dog, tentatively called Pilot and Faithful for a
    few pages, is permanently named Constant (but — mistakenly? — called
    Ardent in the closing paragraph). Soon enough there are even a couple of
    horses, Grizzly and Chess.

    What is the book about? Uprootedness and displacement, obviously; everything’s
    on the move in this book, and there appears to be a certain amount of political
    allegory as well. One senses that continental Europe is secretly pleased
    to see its southern neighbors floating off into the sunset; likewise, the
    United States is magnanimous when it seems that the island will rip itself
    up when it strikes the Azores. Later on, however, the US and Canada demur
    at the prospect of a new neighbor settling down in territorial waters.

    There are some interesting and surprising twists and turns as The
    Stone Raft
    comes to an end, not the least being that most of the women
    on the island are pregnant. One will ask, What does this imminent mass
    birth signify? It’s just one more puzzle for the reader who wants to delve
    deeper into this often very delightful book, a book in which “the
    journey continues.”

    Portugal’s José Saramago is a worldclass writer — I’m always
    telling people I meet that he deserves the Nobel Prize — but I’d give
    his three other books in English a slightly higher recommendation. Deceiving
    words, to some extent, because The Stone Raft is full of wonderful
    lines and wonderful moments that we simply won’t find anywhere else.


Excerpt:

    Overcome evil with good, the ancients used to say, and with good reason,
    at least they put their time to good use by judging facts that were then
    new in the light of facts that were already old. Nowadays we make the mistake
    of adopting a skeptical attitude toward the lessons of antiquity. The President
    of the United States of America promised that the peninsula would be welcome,
    and Canada, as we will see, was not pleased. As the Canadians point out,
    Unless the peninsula changes course, it we who will be playing host and
    then we’ll have two Newfounlands here instead of one, little do the people
    on the peninsula know, poor devils, what awaits them, biting cold, frost,
    the only advantage for the Portuguese is that they will be close to supplies
    of that cod they’re so fond of. They will lose their summers but have more
    to eat.


    The spokesman at the White House hastened to explain that the President’s
    speech had been prompted fundamentally by humanitarian considerations without
    aspiring to political supremacy, especially since the countries of the
    peninsula had not ceased to be sovereign and independent just because they
    had gone floating off over the waters, they will have to come a halt one
    day, and be like every other country, and then added, For our part, we
    solemnly guarantee that the traditional good-neighbor policy between the
    United States and Canada will not be affected by any eventuality, and as
    proof of America’s desire to maintain friendly relations with the great
    Canadian nation, we propose setting up a bilateral committee to examine
    the various problems arising in the context of this dramatic transformation
    of the world’s political and strategic physiognomy, which certainly constitutes
    a first step toward the birth of a new international community comprising
    the United States, Canada, and now the Iberian countries, who will be invited
    to participate as observers at this meeting since they are still not physically
    close enough for there to be any immediate prospect of specifying the eventual
    form of this integration.

              The Stone Raft, by José Saramago, translation
              by Giovanni Pontiero (Harvest Books, 304 pp., $13 paper)

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It seems the future never arrives in Brazil What Lies Ahead in Brazil? Brazil Has No Exemplary Past or Present. But What Lies Ahead for the Country? Europeans, US, developed country, developing country. Bolsonaro, future B. Michael Rubin For years, experts have debated what separates a developing country from a developed one. The GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of a country is one simple way to measure its economic development. Another way to measure a country's progress is the extent of public education, e.g. how many citizens complete high school. A country's health may be measured by the effectiveness of its healthcare system, for example, life expectancy and infant mortality. With these measurement tools, it's easier to gauge the difference between a country like Brazil and one like the U.S. What's not easy to gauge is how these two countries developed so differently when they were both "discovered" at the same time. In 1492 and 1500 respectively, the U.S. and Brazil fell under the spell of white Europeans for the first time. While the British and Portuguese had the same modus operandi, namely, to exploit their discoveries for whatever they had to offer, not to mention extinguishing the native Americans already living there if they got in the way, the end result turned out significantly different in the U.S. than in Brazil. There are several theories on how/why the U.S. developed at a faster pace than Brazil. The theories originate via contrasting perspectives – from psychology to economics to geography. One of the most popular theories suggests the divergence between the two countries is linked to politics, i.e. the U.S. established a democratic government in 1776, while Brazil's democracy it could be said began only in earnest in the 1980s. This theory states that the Portuguese monarchy, as well as the 19th and 20th century oligarchies that followed it, had no motivation to invest in industrial development or education of the masses. Rather, Brazil was prized for its cheap and plentiful labor to mine the rich soil of its vast land. There is another theory based on collective psychology that says the first U.S. colonizers from England were workaholic Puritans, who avoided dancing and music in place of work and religious devotion. They labored six days a week then spent all of Sunday in church. Meanwhile, the white settlers in Brazil were unambitious criminals who had been freed from prison in Portugal in exchange for settling in Brazil. The Marxist interpretation of why Brazil lags behind the U.S. was best summarized by Eduardo Galeano, the Uruguayan writer, in 1970. Galeano said five hundred years ago the U.S. had the good fortune of bad fortune. What he meant was the natural riches of Brazil – gold, silver, and diamonds – made it ripe for exploitation by western Europe. Whereas in the U.S., lacking such riches, the thirteen colonies were economically insignificant to the British. Instead, U.S. industrialization had official encouragement from England, resulting in early diversification of its exports and rapid development of manufacturing. II Leaving this debate to the historians, let us turn our focus to the future. According to global projections by several economic strategists, what lies ahead for Brazil, the U.S., and the rest of the world is startling. Projections forecast that based on GDP growth, in 2050 the world's largest economy will be China, not the U.S. In third place will be India, and in fourth – Brazil. With the ascendency of three-fourths of the BRIC countries over the next decades, it will be important to reevaluate the terms developed and developing. In thirty years, it may no longer be necessary to accept the label characterized by Nelson Rodrigues's famous phrase "complexo de vira-lata," for Brazil's national inferiority complex. For Brazilians, this future scenario presents glistening hope. A country with stronger economic power would mean the government has greater wealth to expend on infrastructure, crime control, education, healthcare, etc. What many Brazilians are not cognizant of are the pitfalls of economic prosperity. While Brazilians today may be envious of their wealthier northern neighbors, there are some aspects of a developed country's profile that are not worth envying. For example, the U.S. today far exceeds Brazil in the number of suicides, prescription drug overdoses, and mass shootings. GDP growth and economic projections depend on multiple variables, chief among them the global economic situation and worldwide political stability. A war in the Middle East, for example, can affect oil production and have global ramifications. Political stability within a country is also essential to its economic health. Elected presidents play a crucial role in a country's progress, especially as presidents may differ radically in their worldview. The political paths of the U.S. and Brazil are parallel today. In both countries, we've seen a left-wing regime (Obama/PT) followed by a far-right populist one (Trump/Bolsonaro), surprising many outside observers, and in the U.S. contradicting every political pollster, all of whom predicted a Trump loss to Hillary Clinton in 2016. In Brazil, although Bolsonaro was elected by a clear majority, his triumph has created a powerful emotional polarization in the country similar to what is happening in the U.S. Families, friends, and colleagues have split in a love/hate relationship toward the current presidents in the U.S. and Brazil, leaving broken friendships and family ties. Both presidents face enormous challenges to keep their campaign promises. In Brazil, a sluggish economy just recovering from a recession shows no signs of robust GDP growth for at least the next two years. High unemployment continues to devastate the consumer confidence index in Brazil, and Bolsonaro is suffering under his campaign boasts that his Economy Minister, Paulo Guedes, has all the answers to fix Brazil's slump. Additionally, there is no end to the destruction caused by corruption in Brazil. Some experts believe corruption to be the main reason why Brazil has one of the world's largest wealth inequality gaps. Political corruption robs government coffers of desperately needed funds for education and infrastructure, in addition to creating an atmosphere that encourages everyday citizens to underreport income and engage in the shadow economy, thereby sidestepping tax collectors and regulators. "Why should I be honest about reporting my income when nobody else is? The politicians are only going to steal the tax money anyway," one Brazilian doctor told me. While Bolsonaro has promised a housecleaning of corrupt officials, this is a cry Brazilians have heard from every previous administration. In only the first half-year of his presidency, he has made several missteps, such as nominating one of his sons to be the new ambassador to the U.S., despite the congressman's lack of diplomatic credentials. A June poll found that 51 percent of Brazilians now lack confidence in Bolsonaro's leadership. Just this week, Brazil issued regulations that open a fast-track to deport foreigners who are dangerous or have violated the constitution. The rules published on July 26 by Justice Minister Sérgio Moro define a dangerous person as anyone associated with terrorism or organized crime, in addition to football fans with a violent history. Journalists noted that this new regulation had coincidental timing for an American journalist who has come under fire from Moro for publishing private communications of Moro's. Nevertheless, despite overselling his leadership skills, Bolsonaro has made some economic progress. With the help of congressional leader Rodrigo Maia, a bill is moving forward in congress for the restructuring of Brazil's generous pension system. Most Brazilians recognize the long-term value of such a change, which can save the government billions of dollars over the next decade. At merely the possibility of pension reform, outside investors have responded positively, and the São Paulo stock exchange has performed brilliantly, reaching an all-time high earlier this month. In efforts to boost the economy, Bolsonaro and Paulo Guedes have taken the short-term approach advocated by the Chicago school of economics championed by Milton Friedman, who claimed the key to boosting a slugging economy was to cut government spending. Unfortunately many economists, such as Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman, disagree with this approach. They believe the most effective way to revive a slow economy is exactly the opposite, to spend more money not less. They say the government should be investing money in education and infrastructure projects, which can help put people back to work. Bolsonaro/Guedes have also talked about reducing business bureaucracy and revising the absurdly complex Brazilian tax system, which inhibits foreign and domestic business investment. It remains to be seen whether Bolsonaro has the political acumen to tackle this Godzilla-sized issue. Should Bolsonaro find a way to reform the tax system, the pension system, and curb the most egregious villains of political bribery and kickbacks – a tall order – his efforts could indeed show strong economic results in time for the next election in 2022. Meanwhile, some prominent leaders have already lost faith in Bolsonaro's efforts. The veteran of political/economic affairs, Joaquim Levy, has parted company with the president after being appointed head of the government's powerful development bank, BNDES. Levy and Bolsonaro butted heads over an appointment Levy made of a former employee of Lula's. When neither man refused to back down, Levy resigned his position at BNDES. Many observers believe Bolsonaro's biggest misstep has been his short-term approach to fixing the economy by loosening the laws protecting the Amazon rainforest. He and Guedes believe that by opening up more of the Amazon to logging, mining, and farming, we will see immediate economic stimulation. On July 28, the lead article of The New York Times detailed the vastly increased deforestation in the Amazon taking place under Bolsonaro's leadership. Environmental experts argue that the economic benefits of increased logging and mining in the Amazon are microscopic compared to the long-term damage to the environment. After pressure from European leaders at the recent G-20 meeting to do more to protect the world's largest rainforest, Bolsonaro echoed a patriotic response demanding that no one has the right to an opinion about the Amazon except Brazilians. In retaliation to worldwide criticism, Bolsonaro threatened to follow Trump's example and pull out of the Paris climate accord; however, Bolsonaro was persuaded by cooler heads to retract his threat. To prove who was in control of Brazil's Amazon region, he appointed a federal police officer with strong ties to agribusiness as head of FUNAI, the country's indigenous agency. In a further insult to the world's environmental leaders, not to mention common sense, Paulo Guedes held a news conference on July 25 in Manaus, the largest city in the rainforest, where he declared that since the Amazon forest is known for being the "lungs" of the world, Brazil should charge other countries for all the oxygen the forest produces. Bolsonaro/Guedes also have promised to finish paving BR-319, a controversial highway that cuts through the Amazon forest, linking Manaus to the state of Rondônia and the rest of the country. Inaugurated in 1976, BR-319 was abandoned by federal governments in the 1980s and again in the 1990s as far too costly and risky. Environmentalists believe the highway's completion will seal a death knoll on many indigenous populations by vastly facilitating the growth of the logging and mining industries. Several dozen heavily armed miners dressed in military fatigues invaded a Wajãpi village recently in the state of Amapá near the border of French Guiana and fatally stabbed one of the community's leaders. While Brazil's environmental protection policies are desperately lacking these days, not all the news here was bad. On the opening day of the 2019 Pan America Games in Lima, Peru, Brazilian Luisa Baptista, swam, biked, and ran her way to the gold medal in the women's triathlon. The silver medal went to Vittoria Lopes, another Brazilian. B. Michael Rubin is an American writer living in Brazil.

Brazil Has No Exemplary Past or Present. But What Lies Ahead for the Country?

For years, experts have debated what separates a developing country from a developed one. ...