Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

An Interview with Osman Lins

Academic journal article The Review of Contemporary Fiction

An Interview with Osman Lins

Article excerpt

Osman Lins died on 8 July 1978 without having been able to answer the questions submitted to him by Edla Van Steen for her series of interviews with Brazilian writers. What follows is a collage created one week after his death by his wife, Julieta de Godoy Ladeira, from the interviews Lins had given over the years and, in a couple of instances, from fragments of his own articles. Julieta made a point of looking for answers that could fit Van Steen's questions without any type of adaptation on her part. The result was, in her own words, "a kind of revenge, a way of fighting still, with Osman Lins, against time, his illness, his absence, of making him participate in [Van Steen's] book as he had planned, with his ideas, his literary conception, his words."

Edla Van Steen: In one of your biographies I read that you lost your mother when you were still a baby and that, in a way, you became a writer in order to re-create in your imagination the face of your mother. If this is true, does it happen through the female characters? Which one is closest, at least emotionally, to the image you've always looked for?

Osman Lins: My father, the descendant of landowners whose property, they say, went from Cabo de Santo Agostinho to very near Rio Real, on the border with the state of Alagoas, had a small tailor shop. Being a tailor is a nice job. Almost all manual jobs are very nice. The only thing is that, in general, it pays less than being a plantation owner. This man married a woman I never knew, who came into the world, it seems, with the sole purpose of being my mother. Having done this, she died, a year after getting married. Stupid. I always thought this gave me a sort of responsibility. That girl died in order for me to be born. I couldn't crumple my life into a ball and throw it out. I never saw a picture - she didn't like photos, even though apparently she was pretty. It seems that this fact left a mark on me. The theme appears in O fiel e a pedra (The Balance's Hand and the Stone), in Nine, Novena (in the story "Lost and Found"), and in Avalovara, whose hero roams the world like a madman looking for something he never lost.

I've already had the opportunity to say that my mother's death shaped my life as a writer, since it seems that a writer's job, metaphorically, is to construct a face that doesn't exist, an imaginary face. This may have led me to compensate in some way, through the imagination, for that absence. I'm not exactly saying that I was traumatized, but I do have the impression that this fact left a mark on me.

EVS: What was your solitary childhood in the interior of the state of Pernambuco like? Who encouraged you toward literature during your adolescence, if you were already writing short stories when you were fifteen? What books were you reading at that time?

OL: That's right. This is how Ataulfo begins one of his sambas. And if he, the master, begins a conversation this way, his solution can be imitated with no hesitation. That's right, I've been involved in this business of writing for years, since my teens, I could almost say since childhood. A childhood I spent practically alone. I was raised by my grandmother and other relatives. This led me to a very introverted type of behavior, very self-absorbed, with a certain tendency to converse with myself. I had a great ease with words. Around fifteen years of age I was already trying to write. Not that the environment was favorable. It wasn't. The small town of the northeast of Brazil where I was born (originally called Cidade do Braga, later Santo Antao, then Vitoria and now Vitoria de Santo Antao) boasted and continues to boast two glories: that of having been the scene, in 1624, of the first victory over the Dutch - thus beginning the Pernambucan Restoration - and of being the biggest producer of cachaca [sugarcane liquor] in Brazil. When I moved to Recife, at sixteen, there still wasn't a library there, and to this day there exists no bookstore, even though its Department of Philosophy is already functioning, of course. …

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