A.L. Kennedy on Tatiana Salem Levy
GRANTA 121: BEST OF YOUNG BRAZILIAN NOVELISTS
Introduced by previous Best of Young Novelists
Tatiana Salem Levy is a writer and translator. She was born in Lisbon and now lives in Rio de Janeiro. Her debut novel, A chave de casa (2007), won the São Paulo Prize for Literature and was a finalist for the Jabuti Award and the Zaffari & Bourbon Award. It has been translated into French, Italian, Romanian, Spanish and Turkish. Her second novel, Dois rios (2011), is forthcoming in Germany, Italy and Portugal. Levy co-edited Primos: histórias da herança árabe e judaica (2010) and is also author of the book-length essay A experiência do fora: Blanchot, Foucault e Deleuze (2011). ‘Blazing Sun’ (‘O Rio sua’) is a new story. Here, as part of an ongoing series on the twenty authors from The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists issue – which was first published in Portuguese by Objectiva – Tatiana Salem Levy is introduced by previous double Best of Young British Novelist, A.L. Kennedy.
Levy’s writing is a joy, not for those wary of intensity or anxious for predictability. Her prose is rich, filled with a sense of the vividness and generosity of an author’s available inspirations: the clamour of the senses, the restless truths of the body, the turns and consolations and perils of thought, the wonders of both beauty and ugliness and the meaning and architecture of words themselves. She is able to grant us intimate and convincing access to her central character and she has the confidence to let this access carry the drama and core of her work, rather than resorting to more superficial incident. She surprises with off-kilter detail and psychological quirks: an apartment can have its own biological agenda, a society can be moulded by liquids and share a humid, hungry skin, a woman can choose to be solitary and happily unhappy, even when immersed in a blur of celebrations, voyeurs and exhibitionists, glad limbs and admirable vistas. On the one hand we might expect a hot, physical, humid tale from a city the world associates with hedonism, a beach-front lack of restraint, but Levy makes her beaches and parties and her dancing crowds, strange with premonitions of death, loneliness and altered states. Levy’s heroine, like all the best protagonists, is an acute observer: funny, insightful and lyrical. She can find poetry in mildness, can catch the break in a jilted lover’s voice and conjure up and entire country in a few brief pages. She is excellent company and that, for any reader, is a rare and beautiful thing. – A.L. Kennedy, Best of Young British Novelist in 1993 and 2003
After living abroad for seven years, I arrive in Rio de Janeiro in late December, in the middle of summer. The walls and furniture of my flat are hidden beneath a layer of mildew. If it weren’t for the green paths traced by the mould, I’d say that the interval separating my departure from my return never existed. The strong smell almost drives me away, but I persevere, and enter. I leave my suitcases in the hallway and open the window, my big glass window, its wooden frame painted white.
Muggy air envelops my face; there isn’t a hint of a breeze. Beads of sweat rapidly squeeze through my pores, cross the barrier of skin and trickle down my body, leaving me drenched. It’s been years since I’ve sweated like this. It’s been years since I’ve felt my clothes stick to my body as if I were standing in a downpour.
Finally and immediately, I understand why I have returned. My body understands; the same body that always protested against Europe’s harsh air with dry legs, straw-like hair, nausea, dizziness, difficulty breathing. In a sweat, it recognizes itself. Much faster than I had imagined, my blood stirs, aroused by the month of December. Then I realize, sitting on the sofa moistened by my sweat, why I have returned: because here, in Rio de Janeiro, my body feels at home.
Translated by Alison Entrekin.