Ricardo Lísias was born in São Paulo, and holds a PhD in Brazilian literature from São Paulo University. He is the author of one short-story collection and four novels, the latest of which is O céu dos suicidas (2012). His work has been translated into Galician, Italian and Spanish. His writing has also been published in the magazine piauí and in issues 2 and 6 of Granta em português. ‘Evo Morales’ is a new story. Here, as part of an ongoing series on the twenty authors from The Best of Young Brazilian Novelists issue – which was first published in Portuguese by Objectiva – Ricardo Lísias is introduced by previous Best of Young British Novelist Toby Litt.
Adventures in Capitalism, my first book, came out and was reviewed in the Catholic Herald. They called it ‘A “Diary of a Madman” for the Shopping Channel generation.’
Yes, I was flattered; flattered to be reviewed and not condemned.
It took me years, though, to realize that – apart from being a lot more than merely flattering – the Gogol comparison was right as it could be.
I admire other writers more than Gogol – Austen, James, Kafka, Mandelstam, Beckett – but there are none to whom I feel so alike.
This isn’t self-flattery. Gogol isn’t Tolstoy. And the Gogols of this world will always lose out to the Tolstoys.
Gogols are in love with the grotesquery of paradoxical revelation, more than with truth. Gogols find themselves cat-mesmerized by contradictory effects, by shimmers, undertones and fluorescences, rather than the pure matt tones. If a Gogol can do something bass ackwards, even build a temple, they will. Gogols, as they themselves will admit, will insist upon, are not to be trusted as Tolstoys are. (Gogols mistrust trustworthiness.)
Readers like writers they can plainly trust.
It is safer for civic folk to erect a statue to Tolstoy in the forum, because Tolstoy stands for something, erectly, statuesquely.
A Gogol statue would have to show him posed in a parody of how figures on statues stand, or cowering behind the plinth in order not to be seen as shamefully statue-worthy, or pissing.
When I read Ricardo Lísias’s story ‘Evo Morales’ (translated by Nick Caistor), I saw straight off that it was Gogolian – his narrator is great-great-grandson to the Madman in ‘Diary of a Madman’.
But I saw more than that – in the beautiful polyphony of referents (comedians call them ‘callbacks’), in the grotesquely fractured form (switching to epistolary two-thirds of the way through because it just does), and in the gorgeous political slyness of the whole thing (Evo Morales may or may not be amused) – in every word I saw a true untrue Gogol, and I felt joy.
– Toby Litt, Best of Young British Novelists, 2003.
Photograph © Feria Internacional de Libra de Guadalajara