Brazil is booming, economically.
Last night I went to the South Bank to an evening with Brazilian writers – part of the Brazilian festival, an event celebrating women, politics, Brazil and fiction.
The writers Ana Maria Goncalves, Patricia Melo and Maria Valéria Rezende, chaired by publisher Liz Calder, discussed their books and Brazilian politics.
According to Liz, the Economist predicts that Brazil will be the fifth largest economy by 2014 and there are 20 million fewer in poverty under Lula, the current President, who started work as a poor shoe shiner and was a founding members of the Workers’ Party.
Ana Maria Goncalves said: “I’m very proud of Lula presidency. He is really interested in solving problems he saw when he was a worker.”
Patricia Melo, whose book Acqua Tofana (meaning ‘arsenic’) has the line “Women exist so men can measure themselves”, said the progress is a surprise for Brazil.
“We didn't expect this. It's a new reality. We are not used to opening the newspaper and reading good news. It is usually tragedy in reality. But this reality has to come with a new mentality including education; giving poor people access to education. I don't think politicians are prepared for this new reality. But it's a beginning.”
And it’s a beginning that may have a female leader, for the first time. Lula, who has to step down at the end of this year after serving his maximum two mandates, has chosen Dilma Rousseff as his official chosen successor.
According to Maria Valéria Rezende, the change in Brazil in the last eight years has been driven by women. Money has been given to families that live below the poverty line and “women administered it”.
And does fiction have a place amid all these changes? “I think Brazil is trying to know who Brazil is, where it comes from, ” said Ana Maria Goncalves.
This made me very happy to hear; I wrote my first novel, which is set in Brazil, because I was trying to understand a bit more about the country and its issues. Although, when I’d finished the novel, I felt I understood Brazil even less – it is a wonderful, colourful and complex country, full of paradoxes and contrasts, treasures and histories. My attempts at cracking it were like making small scratches with my finger nail on the outside of a green coconut.
Brazil’s culture is so different, so profound, I was in awe of it. The more I found out, the more of an enigma it seemed to be.