Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religion : JSR

Cintia Moscovich's Brazilian View on Jewish Literary Themes

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religion : JSR

Cintia Moscovich's Brazilian View on Jewish Literary Themes

Article excerpt

Since the arrival of European explorers in Brazil in 1500, local culture has been subjected mainly to the influence brought by Portuguese navigators and their descendants. These included many Jews, newly converted to Christianity, but who continued to profess their Jewish religion or, at least, keep some Jewish practices. Even though there are still Indian tribes who speak their own languages, as well as evidence of the cultural influence of African slaves in some regions of the country, Portuguese was-and is-the only language predominant in literature. Short periods of Spanish, Dutch and French domination during the colonial period have not left obvious traces in the language, culture or literature of Brazil. During the second half of the 19th century, Brazil began opening its ports and received immigrants from various European and Asiatic countries. Intermixing with local inhabitants soon resulted in the disappearance of languages spoken by immigrants. Although most of the first generation immigrants did not produce literature, it was not uncommon for Jewish immigrants to write in Yiddish. However, very soon, Portuguese became the literary language for their descendants. Interestingly, a particular partiality for the ethnic and cultural themes of their ancestors is apparent amongst second, third or even fourth generation writers. The same can be said of writers of Arab descent. As for writers of other ethnic origins, however, this tendency is almost imperceptible.

Thinking about minority literature, I turned to the writings of Cintia Moscovich, born in 1958: writer, translator, journalist and literary consultant.2 As stressed above, minority literature in Brazil does not refer to literature in the language of a minority, since today there is no expressive literature being produced in the country in languages other than Portuguese. Minority literature may be linked to ethnic or gender literature-in any event, it is considered fully Brazilian literature without evident connections to any current foreign language, or the foreign languages of authors' ancestors. Prize-winner writer Moscovich, was born and lives in Porto Alegre in the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul which borders Argentina and Uruguay-both Spanish-speaking countries, with a strong influence on southern Brazilian culture and habits. She is the author of four books, published and republished since 1996.3 At this point, I could also stress a direct relationship between gender and literary style, but that is something I have chosen not to do, although it was only in the 1960s that literature by women began to acquire significant status in Brazil. At the time, it was necessary to establish a gender divide in relation to male control in order to survive and ensure visibility. This changed in the 1970s when a strategic struggle opened space for dialogue between minorities. From then on, women's literature has been viewed in the same way as the discourse of any other minority. It is noteworthy that in her southern state, Moscovich, herself a Jewess, ensured prominence for the most representative of a number of writers of Jewish origin writing in Portuguese-at least fifteen. Consequently, my emphasis will be on the position of the Jewish writer. However, since Moscovich is one of the very rare Brazilian female writers of Jewish origin, her being a woman could also be borne in mind.

Jewish immigration to that part of Brazil began more than 100 years ago. Most of the Jewish population there, as all the other Brazilian states today have Portuguese as the one and only language. Most of the prominent writers mentioned above used, as background for their books, rural life in the agricultural colonies of the Jewish Colonization Association-a unique Jewish South American, and particularly Brazilian-experience. People of Italian and German descent have also had important agricultural experiences in that state. While these immigrants' descendants still live in the countryside, however, Jews became urban people. …

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