Brazilian Literature and the Arab Culture

Alberto Mussa - El enigma de QafMoema Olival’s recent book, Brazilian Literature and the Arab Culture, examines the “influence of traditions of Arab countries, especially Lebanon, in novels, poems and essays of six Brazilian authors of Arab descent.” Those authors are: Milton Hatoum, Raduan Nassar, Miguel Jorge, William Argel de Mello, Salim Miguel and Carlos Nejar. I’m not sure about the translation of the title, but I hope it’s not actually “the Arab culture,” singular.

Here’s an article on Milton Hatoum and the “Arabs of Brazil” – although the article itself quotes Hatoum as disavowing any kind of hyphenated identity:

“…there’s no nostalgia here concerning Lebanon,” Hatoum says. “The children of immigrants in Brazil don’t feel this belonging to a separate community. They already feel Brazilian. I’ll give you an example: No one in my family married other children of Arab immigrants. Here, we don’t think of ourselves as Lebanese–Brazilian or Japanese–Brazilian or whatever. We’re all just Brazilians.”

Others who have worked on the intersections of Brazilian and Arab literature include Wail S. Hassan, who has discussed Brazilian novelist Alberto Mussa’s works. Hassan argues that Mussa’s “construction of Arab-Brazilian identity informs his novel,
O enigma de Qaf (2004, The Riddle of Qaf), and his Portuguese translation of the
Mu’allaqat (suspended poems) of pre-Islamic Arabia, published under the title, Os
poemas suspensos (2006)” describing them as “companion texts that bring alive
the mythology, poetry, and culture of 5th century Arabia onto the Brazilian literary
scene.”

While the translation recreates the poems themselves, the novel presents
a fictional pre-Islamic poet and author of a lost mu‘allaqa who is the protagonist
of a meandering quest narrative that, as the title implies, unlocks a mystery that
comes to represent the mystique of the East. That mystique remains somewhat
pervasive in Brazilian culture today, with echoes of it resonating in popular culture
(from music to carnaval and telenovelas, for example), albeit in a non-politicized
form of Orientalism when compared to its European or North American varieties
analyzed by Edward Said and others. Indeed, this Brazilian Orientalism, especially as
elaborated in Mussa’s translation and fiction, is imbued with a nostalgia that spurs
his excavation of his own family’s cultural roots and the hybrid mix of influences
that make up modern Brazil.

Also see The Middle East and Brazil: Perspectives on the New Global South edited by Paul Amar, which includes an essay by Hassan on Alberto Mussa, comparing him as the third generation to second generation writers Miguel, Hatoum and Nassar.

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