The Brazilian journalist that has published the English version of ‘K’, a novel about a father searching for his missing daughter during the Brazilian military dictatorship, speaks to The Prisma about the great reception it had received among critics and the public.
Bernardo Kucinski, journalist and university professor inSão Paulo, is author of numerous books about journalism, economy and political history. ‘K’ is his first venture into the world of fiction books, that he himself describes by saying that ‘everything in the book is invented but almost all of it happened’.
The novel, of which the first edition was sold out in just a few weeks, is based on the history of the disappearance of his sister in 1973 during the military regime that governed the Latin-American country, and has been preselected for various national awards in Brazil and Portugal.
Collaborator of the Brazilian Workers Party, senior consultant of president Lula da Silva and correspondent of The Guardian newspaper, he has been praised for ‘K’, described as a ‘masterpiece’ for its treatment regarding the topic of missing persons in Brazil.
Bernardo Kucinski has agreed to give an interview with The Prisma about his book and the military dictatorship. Kucinski visited the United Kingdom, invited by the Brazilian Institute of King’s College London.
It’s the story of a man that is searching for his missing daughter during the military regime in Brazil. The protagonist is an older man that was very involved in political activities during his youth in Poland, but has now dedicated himself to literature, writing in Yiddish, the language of the Jews of Eastern Europe.
He doesn’t know that she was involved with politics and her disappearance takes him completely by surprise. His whole life is turned upside down. Trying to find his daughter and avenge what has happened to her, he discovers a completely different system of journalists that shape the dictatorship. A situation very similar to the one he has already experienced, some 40 years ago.
You said that ‘everything in this book is invented but almost all of it happened.’ What do you mean by this?
The book is composed of chapters independent of one another that can be read separately, but they have a unity that is human history. Each chapter tells of specific facts that have actually occurred.
Regardless of which, it is written in a very inventive literary language. Its fiction based on occasional facts, like a mosaic in which the pieces are real but the composition is free.
Yes, the protagonist carries out searches for me and for my father when my sister disappeared, but all of the stories that we experienced in that moment are shown through one person.
What can this tell us about the disappearances in Brazil?
It was a disgusting tactic that was used in Latin American dictatorships in general. Particularly in Argentina, where apparently they threw hundreds of people into open sea, and in Chile, where they also used this method. In the case of Brazil it was used less often, but it was particularly employed in the age in which my sister disappeared, between 1973 and 1975.
It’s a very terrifying and painful thing to do. Burying someone that you have lost is very upsetting but when they are missing the pain continues for years until you overcome it. Regardless, there are people that never manage to.
Yes, just the other day I heard a story, and wrote a short story about it. A man was close to dying and had decided to stage a symbolic burial of his son that had disappeared. He held a ceremony that the whole village attended and he placed a pair of shoes and his son’s jacket on the coffin, all because he needed to burry him. Many people wait their whole lives for the return of missing people.
Why does a dictatorship decide to use a method such as this one?
It happens, maybe, as a natural development from the fact that they kill people in a criminal manner. They discovered that they could use the disappearances as a general method and that it also brings other benefits by terrorising the population and causing disconcert amongst people.
What differentiated the Brazilian dictatorship from others in Latin America?
All dictatorships are based on the same conception, that of the Cold War. There was a communist threat across the whole world and they needed to exterminate these ideas. To put it one way, all dictatorships have the same DNA.
In Chile and Argentina they carried out a political extermination, the numbers vary around 10,000 and 15,000. Something brutal. In Brazil they pretended to be a democracy. They didn’t kill many people but persecuted those opposed, the resistance.
What was the repression like?
There were few groups of subtle resistance, people being fired from their jobs, students and professors thrown out of universities. Some 475 persons dead or missing. Political leaders in exile, they followed trade unionists and accused them of crimes against national security. It was more an ideological extinction than physical.
I don’t know if I expected it or not. In Brazil it had a great impact on the people that had lived through this time, although the conservative press didn’t give it much attention. The first edition sold out and now it’s being sold in England, Spain and Germany.
It was my first work of fiction and I doubted it at the beginning, but after the first readers told me their impressions I was convinced that it was a good book because they all seemed very excited about it.
(Translated by Adam Brown – Email: Adambrown@live.com)