I have always been fascinated about the children’s literature of Brazilian author Monteiro Lobato. So much so that about this time last year I was seriously considering including it in my doctoral dissertation — or maybe even devoting the entire dissertation to it. But in order to do that, I thought it would be a smart idea to read his work for adults and his correspondence, which I did last winter. All of my blog entries of February and March 2007 were devoted to reporting my impressions as I read through Lobato’s adult work (not be mistaken for his mature work, which was entirely dedicated to children).
The last post of this series describes my impression of the book that made me completely give up on Lobato’s work as topic for my thesis. Its title could be translated as “The Black President: a novel set in the year 2228.” It was written in 1926, and it describes a presidential race in the United States in a very very distant future, in which, for the very first time, the two main candidates were a black man and a white woman.
Lobato moved from Brazil to New York in 1922 and was surprised about the overt racism he encountered (not that there wasn’t racism in Brazil, but it wasn’t as overt). The feminist struggle for universal suffrage also made an impression on him (in Brazil, women were only allowed to vote in 1932). The combination of the two gave rise to “The Black President” a book that made me sick to my stomach, for all the racism and sexism it contains.
In my post of a year ago, I said that what impressed me about Lobato was his frankness: he always wrote what he thought, no matter how controversial. Reading “The Black President,” I realized that while this made for some of the best writing I’ve ever read, it also accounted for some of the most offensive writing I’ve ever read.
But another thing about Lobato that always amazed me is how he seems to anticipate situations and discussions that were only to come to the fore decades later. There is definitely something eerie about the way he imagined the dynamics of race and gender in the context of American Presidential elections, and what we read in the news these days. The similarities between 2228 and 2008 disturb me immensely — but I keep trying to remind myself that fiction is merely fiction, and that’s all.