CIX (Re)leituras - Memórias de um Sargento de Milícias, by Manuel Antônio de Almeida, comments by André Bandeira
The title could be translated as « A milita sargent's memoir» and it is the sole book published by Manuel Antônio de Almeida, a brazilian writer who lived fast, died young and left a beautiful image of all he could have written during the Empire, somewhere in the transition from romanticism to realism. The narrative tells the story of the lowsly educated child of a bailiff and a peasant, both portuguese, who emigrated to Brazil when King John the Sixth, escaped there, too, from Napoleon, and tried to build in Rio de Janeiro the United Kingdom of Portugal and Brazil. Away from the european horrors, life was easy, funny and awkard. And it is precisely from this departing point, that the author transforms the awkwardness in a kind of tragicomic sense of life. The poor educated offspring of a relationship which begun on te boat (by means of the man deliberatly stepping on a woman's foot and this latter answering him back with a pinch on his hand)begins by ending up with the woman sailing back to Portugal in the arms of some boat captain, she had been entartaining while the bailiff was extorting money to the defendants. The boy is comitted to the godfather, a celibate barber, and, while the father is stumbling on many more loves, notably one with a gipsy, who shares him with a priest, he grows up to be a spoil, a trickster and -- just like his father -- a lovey-dovey, always prone to awkward and disadvantageous situations. First he falls for Luisinha, who happens to marry, without love, her cousin, a man who used to tell that, once he was the sole survivor of a shipwreck, after two boats collided and sank, and, as one of them left hundreds of pots afloat, he hopped over them till he reached the beach. The other was Vidinha, a mulata, evident in her beauty, who jumped from admirer to admirer and who finally got jealous when the bailiff's son happened to stumble on someone else's woman. Finally, after many hilarious episodes, where the bailiff's son tries to reconcile his cunning and his clumsyness, Vidigal, the omnipotent militia's commander, who arrested his father, once (and him, later on) makes out of the boy, a grenadier and, after some fatal mishap which comes eventually eased by the women's implorations, a real milita sargent. Dressed up in his brand new uniform, and since Luisinha has widowed in the meantime, the offfsrping of a trample and a pinch, ends up marrying her, encercled by the women who always supported him during so many unfortunate and hillarious events. Of course, the final paragraph alludes to the next episodes (the novel began with being published in chapters, on a newspaper) where the unfortunate bailiff's son dies. The author who wrote this superb novel, lying on a bed, during a row of bohemian nights, while his friends where playing guitar and boozing around, happened himself to die, young, in a shipwreck. His sense of funny doesn't hide a bitter and looming hangover, which seems to be confirmed in a never-ending series of finals where the protagonist always ends-up in awkward situations. Nevertheless, it seems that it is not the unfortunate birth which engraves this genetic code of fate, but a bad education where the autism of a celibate barber, postured as an educator, transforms the natural rudeness of a young boy, tainted with as much desire as greed, in a series of trippings. Still, this cynicism towards the miseries of a migrant society, seem to be more pleased by the narrative of misfortunes and laughs than for the root causes, which makes out of the novel a superb romantic rot, instead of a realistic surgery. Here, the fun sight is stronger than the sun light.