As part of a series on the twenty authors from The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists issue – which was first published in Portuguese by Objectiva – Javier Arancibia Contreras is introduced by previous Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelist Andrés Felipe Solano.

In 1985, Terry Gilliam debuted his film Brazil, a witty, dystopic satire in which life consists of bureaucracy, plastic surgery, late-night shopping, and terrorist bombs. At the end of the trailer – the movie’s title derives from ‘Watercolour of Brazil,’ a famous song of the late 30s – a voiceover says that Brazil is a state of mind.

In J.P. Cuenca’s ‘Before the Fall,’ Brazil is Brazil. Brazil does not take place in anyone’s head. It’s reality. Brazil is Rio de Janeiro, a city, we learn, that has suffocated on its own vomit after a decades-long party. A city that succumbed to false promises, to vulgarity, to the economic bubble, to being the flavour of the month, to the Starbucks introduced by the Olympics and the World Football Championship. From the future, Cuenca narrates Rio’s collapse and the personal fall of the main character. He does it with the elegant distance of a data collector but also with the terrifying certainty of one who knows there’s no going back.

In the years that preceded the fall, when Tomás Anselmo was not in the street sighing and taking inventory of his losses, he would shut himself at home with his wife, turn on the air conditioning and organize small orgies lubricated with champagne in Martini glasses.

Anselmo is not a victim, nor is he a victimizer. All he seems to be is someone who learned how to make his way in a post-Olympics, pre-apocalyptic Rio de Janeiro, someone who probably knows all the reasons why the city should be destroyed but who only does one thing: abandon it. Not out of cowardice, but rather boredom. In ‘Before the Fall,’ Cuenca tells us in straightforward, bullet-proof prose what happened to Anselmo before the earth split open right before his Rio eyes.

Translated by Alfred Mac Adam.

Toby Litt on Ricardo Lísias
Javier Montes on Emilio Fraia