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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Spilt Milk

Chico Buarque

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To purchase Spilt Milk

Title: Spilt Milk
Author: Chico Buarque
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 177 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: Spilt Milk - US
Spilt Milk - UK
Spilt Milk - Canada
Spilt Milk - India
Latte versato - Italia
Leche derramada - España
  • Portuguese title: Leite derramado
  • Translated by Alison Entrekin

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Our Assessment:

B : fine, deeply personal story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Financial Times A 12/10/2012 Ángel Gurría-Quintana
The LA Times . 21/12/2012 David L. Ulin
The NY TImes Book Rev. . 24/12/2012 Larry Rohter
The Telegraph . 4/10/2012 Ian Thomson
TLS . 25/1/2013 Lucy Popescu
Wall Street Journal . 7/12/2012 Sam Sacks

  From the Reviews:
  • "Buarque’s use of concealment gives the novel narrative tension, and it is central to Eulálio’s account of his relationship with his young wife, Matilde. (...) Spilt Milk is one of the outstanding Brazilian novels of recent times. It is as accessible and enjoyable for readers with no specialist knowledge of Brazil’s social and cultural nuances as it is for those who are better-acquainted." - Ángel Gurría-Quintana, Financial Times

  • "What's most remarkable about the book, though, is not that it somehow manages to internalize more than 100 years of Brazilian history but, rather, the way it also exists almost outside that history, outside of time." - David L. Ulin, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Spilt Milk is in fact derived from a song of his released in 1987. That song, Old Francisco, was sung from the point of view of an elderly freed slave looking back on the sorrows and hardships of his life, whereas Spilt Milk, though similarly pensive, shifts the focus to his oppressors. But both are lyrical tales of regret and failing remembrance that highlight Mr. Buarque’s gift for narrative and the telling detail." - Larry Rohter, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Spilt Milk, Buarque’s fourth novel, displays a typically Brazilian mishmash of influences ranging from memoir to adventure to political diatribe. (...) At first glance, Spilt Milk appears to be in narrative disarray, as the book wanders backwards and forwards in time. Eventually, though, the inchoate strands cohere into an absorbing, if bitter, meditation on Brazil." - Ian Thomson, The Telegraph

  • "As well as exploring big themes, such as love, loss, sex and death, Spilt Milk vividly evokes the country’s past and hints at some of the sociological contradictions still facing Brazil today." - Lucy Popescu, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Spilt Milk nimbly arranges this seeming hodgepodge of autobiography in a way that is both funny and illuminating. (...) Embedded in these flashbacks is a sly critique of Brazil's social and racial mores." - Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Spilt Milk is narrated by Eulálio d'Assumpção, an old, old man -- over a hundred -- in hospital, rambling on to the pretty nurses or to anyone who might be listening (or, ultimately, simply to himself) about his long life. It is a story of inexorable decline, with Eulálio now having little to hold onto but his memories. The son of a once-powerful and influential Brazilian family, he lived through the times when the family fortunes faded fast and now he's left with practically nothing; the great love of his life, Matilde, was lost to him when she was still in her teens, and only the next generations, from aged daughter to the drug-dealing youngest generation, remains.
       What is basically a stream-of consciousness narrative is divided into chapters, making for some breaks, and while Eulálio's ramblings shift back and forth between the immediate present and the past there is some coherence to his story. Along with more recent anecdotes -- snorting coke on his hundredth birthday with his great-great-grandson -- it is especially the story of the love of his life that haunts him. Their passionate affair and early wedding -- opposed by her father, but then quickly sanctioned when Matilde claimed she was already pregnant -- and then how she quickly drifted out of his life were a brief, intense explosion in his life, its echoes lingering on even now. The family mausoleum is inscribed with Matilde's name and the dates "1912-1929", but the story is more complicated than that hewn-in-stone summary suggests.
       Eulálio is old and apparently does not communicate quite as clearly and effectively in person as he does on these pages, but he still catches on to a lot of what is happening around him. Still, it's his vibrant memories that dominate the book, from his inability to live up to the family legacies -- with an almost comical voyage to Europe after his father's death, where he finds their entire fortune is essentially already lost -- to the brief but intense relationship with Matilde.
       Spilt Milk is more a very personal cri de cœur rather than a padded family saga, as Buarque seems aware of his limits. Still, an interesting picture of Brazil also emerges, from the patrician/robber-baron-age that was the nineteenth century, to the shifts of the early twentieth century. It is not a detailed examination of the change the country underwent over the course of the entire twentieth century, instead focusing on the early parts of it, but nevertheless offers an insightful picture.
       Often quite powerful, the narrative approach in Spilt Milk is unfortunately also all too familiar, and Buarque's rambling-old-man-saga doesn't set itself sufficiently apart from the genre. It's a fine, quick dip into Brazil, with some nice touches and a decent haunting love story, but that's the extent of it.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 January 2013

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Spilt Milk: Reviews: Chico Buarque: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Brazilian musician and author Chico Buarque was born in 1944.

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© 2013 the complete review

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