Thomas J. Braga
The devastation of the Amazonian rain forest has caused a world- wide uproar and forced people from diverse walks of life and in different parts of the world to take a closer look at a region of Latin America too long neglected, Brazil and the Amazon. Indeed the destruction of the forest and the disappearance of its Amerindian inhabitants along with their myths and legends form part of one single tragedy that has captured the attention of Brazilian authors, from the very beginning of the twentieth century, in their constant search for ethnic identity and national unity. If it is true as the critic Vladimir Propp asserts that "myth is the most pre- cious treasure of a people and that to deprive man of myth is tantamount to depriving him of life itself" ( Campos271), then the defenders of the for- est and the protectors of Indian culture have a common cause in their de- fense of indigenous habitats.
Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth reminds us that "myths" are metaphorical of spiritual potentiality in the human being, and the same powers that animate our life animate the life of the world" (22). It is pre- cisely this emphasis on myth as a "return to origins" that typifies so much of contemporary Latin American literature and has gained for its national literatures, whether written in Spanish or Portuguese, such world renown.
With the publication in Portuguese of Macunaíma in 1928, a nondescript work labeled a "rhapsody," that is, a potpourri of subjects taken from national folklore, by its Brazilian author Mário de Andrade ( 1893- 1945), a whole new phase of Latin American fiction was launched. Considered by critics as the most important work of fiction to emerge from Brazilian Modernism, Macunaíma was to become the model for what we now call "magic realism" and lead to the boom in the Latin American novel of the 1950's and 1960's.