Having watched the special devoted to raising money for Ukraine, I am now listening to a kind of music I seldom listen to: Samba. Samba has nothing to do with Ukraine. No, it is Brazilian music, and in some ways is parallel to Jazz. Just as Jazz music combines elements of Euro-American music with the music of the black slaves of the United States, so Samba combines African and Portuguese music (Portugal being the country that colonized Brazil). The percentage of people with African ancestry in Brazil is larger than the United States, and that is why larger pieces of African culture survived slavery and various forms of oppression. Yet like Jazz, Samba is a joyous form of music that celebrates life, and it is played big time at Mardi Gras, when the Catholic country which is Brazil parties hardy right before Lent.
I learned about Samba when I wrote my book, Brazil. I am afraid I may have done the country an injustice, because a friend found the book, “depressing” and the national mood of Brazil is, despite its traditional problems, anything but depressed. However, I did intend the book to portray the Problem of Evil, in which the question of extreme suffering–as it exists in the 3rd World–and so perhaps it is in the nature of the beast that my book was not uplifting to some of my friends… My original ending (I changed it) even included the hero’s suicide.
Despite all this, when researching Brazil for my book, I did more than read tourist books and look at maps (though I did do that). I had to discover the music of the people, and if I had been able I might have sampled some of its literature… and food. I wrote about a Brazilian dish “meat stew” which I have never eaten but hope that I described accurately enough to do justice to the place. However, if I never did read any Brazilian poems or novels, I did at least listen to Brazilian music: Samba and Basa Nova. I don’t listen to them very often today, but at the time I played one particular CD over and over again, listening to Samba in different forms including Samba merged with pop.
The protagonist of the book, Jose Baruch a.k.a. Other, is a Jew who loves Samba and despite the fact he is supposed to be studying for the rabbinate loves dancing in the parades for Mardi Gras. He drinks sugar wine when he does–but if you are not from Brazil don’t try the stuff because it is toxic to drink (like the water in Mexico is).
I find myself nostalgic for Brazil–the book, not the country. I have never been to the land where it is set, but I keep hoping someday Brazil will sell… That like Charles Dickens’ novels, my novel will be recognized as secretly joyful and not depressing. (For years I have lived with the unfortunate experience of having people compare Dickens to Dostoyevsky as “gloomy.” That Dostoyevsky might be designed to depress is not at all surprising, but Dickens? When only one of his many books [The Old Curiosity Shoppe] has an unhappy ending?) Eventually I hope to write a prequel to Brazil (God’s Laughter Reverberates on Sugar Loaf Mountain) and a sequel (Wild Rose) or two (Carlos). I also hope to write a book of short stories for Mexico (South of the Border); and a few books for Latin America (Akedah in the Andes’ Mountains; Living in Peron’s Shadow; and The Pope’s Country).
All of these books are far from my current work: Tales of the Land of the Firebird Part I. This book is about Russia, Ukraine and Poland, particularly during the Communist and post-Communist eras. However, as a book writer I hope to revisit Latin America (including Brazil) some day.