At the meeting of rivers and cultures
The son of Lebanese immigrants, Milton Hatoum was born in 1952 in Manaus and, in spite of his meagre opus, is one of Brazil´s most eminent authors. His two novels, several essays and short stories have been translated into many languages and won various awards.
The main theme of Milton Hatoum´s novels, tales and essays is migration between orient and occident, as in Brazil, especially in the region of the Amazon. He does not view the region as being exotic but rather - inspired by Euclides da Cunha - as lying on the outskirts of history. At the confluence of the Rio Solimóes and the Rio Negro, Manaus is often at the start or end of a journey. Travellers from afar take root here, and residents dream of or begin travelling. Time and again there are meetings, exchanges and cultural blends. It is a microcosm remote from epoch-making events but also a cultural melting-pot.
Hatoum´s first novel ´Relato de um certo oriente´ (´Emilie or Death in Manaus´) is a family chronicle. The main figure is Emilie, a matriarch of Christian origins married to a Lebanese immigrant and sharing a villa with him, their children and servants. This book sensitively and variously portrays the meeting of orient and occident with their separate scales of value. This includes the attitude of members of the family and the servants to their daughter´s, Soraya´s, illegitimate child, who is rejected by the men but accepted by the women.
Hatoum´s essay ´Reflexão sobre uma viagem sem fim´ (´A Journey Without End´) describes the Frenchman of letters Delatour, who comes from Finisterre in Brittany and settles in Manaus. Once more Hatoum shows how an intimate confrontation with an alien culture may cause one to reassess, sometimes positively, one´s own childhood and origins.
His novel ´Dois irmãos´ (´The Brothers´) is likewise set in Manaus and is about two brothers vying for their mother´s love and struggling to put stones in each other´s path. It recalls Jacob and Esau without, however, making clear which of the twins, Yaqub and Omar, tallies with which. The time is between the end of the rubber boom and the start of felling the rain forests. The family is part of society but keeps itself somewhat aloof. The father, Halim, and the mother, Zana, have three children - the twin brothers and a daughter, Rania - and share a big house with Domingas, a maidservant of Indian origins, and her son.
The brothers grow up in continual rivalry and jealousy till Yaqub moves to São Paulo and begins a life of his own. Omar stays on as a provincial dandy in the local bars, till he too wishes to move to São Paulo. Rania, their sister, remains within the family, running their father´s business.
Hatoum tells this family´s sad chronicle in fine, mellifluous language and, in so doing, portrays not only the family but also Manaus, rotting with dignity and patience in the backwaters of Brazilian history. Yet, from its medley of Amazonian cultures he draws a refreshing polyphony, having the past ring out in the literature of the present; and by turning to the past he finds the roots of present-day Brazil with its intimate cruelty.
Milton Hatoum was born on 19th August, 1952, in Manaus by the Amazon. In 1968 he went to Brasilia to study architecture but spent the 70s in São Paulo, where he studied architecture at the faculty for architecture and urban planning at the university till gaining a diploma. He then worked on the renowned weekly magazine ´ISTO É´ and taught the history of architecture at the Universidade de Taubaté. In 1980 he was awarded a grant for six months´ study in Madrid where, at the Instituto Iberoamericano de Cooperación, he focussed on the Spanish language and literature. He later moved on to Barcelona and then to Paris, where he took a master´s degree in comparative literature by writing about ´Brazilian Modernism and the European Avant-garde´ at the Sorbonne Nouvelle. In August, 1983, he returned to Manaus, where he has since been teaching French and Brazilian literature at the Universidade Federal do Amazonas and at present is teaching these at the Centro Universitário Mariantonia da Universidade de São Paulo.
Milton Hatoum has been a visiting professor at the University of California in Berkeley, has been awarded grants by the Brazilian VITAE Foundation and the Maison des Ecrivains Etrangers in Saint Nazaire in France, and in the USA has been Writer in Residence at Yale University in New Haven as well as at the International Writing Program in Iowa. He has also taken part in readings, discussions and seminars in the House of World Cultures and the Ibero-Amerikanisches Institut Preußischer Kulturbesitz in Berlin and at various North American, French and Portuguese institutes and universities.
Milton Hatoum lives and works in São Paulo.
Orfãos do Eldorado
Cia. das Letras: São Paulo
Tale of a Certain Orient
Novel. Bloomsbury: London
Novel. Bloomsbury: London
A dois passos do deserto: visões urbanas de Euclides na Amazônia
Essay. In: Teresa, Magazine for Brasilian Literature. USP: São Paulo
Dois Irmãos, Companhia das Letras
Novel. São Paulo
Nas asas do Condor
Tales for children. In: Heloisa Prieto. Livro dos Medos: São Paulo
The Truth is a Seven-headed Animal
Erzählung. In: Grand Street Magazine. Grand Street: New York
A ninfa do teatro Amazonas
Short story. In: O Estado de São Paulo
Uma carta de Bancroft
Story. In: Jornal da Tarde. São Paulo
Literatura e Memória, São Paulo
In: O Estado de São Paulo
The Tree of the Seventh Heaven
Novel. Atheneum / Macmillan: New York
Reflexão sobre uma viagem sem fim
Story. In: Revista. USP
Narrar para não morrer
In: Salman Rushdie: Haroun e o mar de histórias. Paulicéia: São Paulo
Prêmio Jabuti (Preis der brasilianischen Buchkammer) for the best novel Relato de um certo Oriente
Prêmio Jabuti (prize of the Brasilian book society) for the best novel Dois Irmãos