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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The War in Bom Fim

Moacyr Scliar

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Title: The War in Bom Fim
Author: Moacyr Scliar
Genre: Novel
Written: 1972 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 130 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: The War in Bom Fim - US
The War in Bom Fim - UK
The War in Bom Fim - Canada
The War in Bom Fim - India
La Guerre de Bom Fim - France
  • Portuguese title: A guerra no Bom Fim
  • Translated and with Introduction by David William Foster

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Our Assessment:

B : loose, impressionistic novella; skims across too much

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The War in Bom Fim is a novel (of sorts) set in a neighborhood of Porto Allgre, in Brazil, mainly during the Second World War. But Scliar begins his novella:

     Let us consider Bom Fim as though it were a country, a small country, and not a neighborhood in Porto Alegre
       The Bom Fim Scliar describes is a closely circumscribed world as it would be seen through children's eyes, an (ir)reality all its own. The larger world is ominous but largely unknown and distant, the local threats much more real (but also colored by foreign ones -- notably Hitler's war). Scliar focuses on the local Jewish population, one that is threatened (certainly on the childish level, but also at others) by other local forces: the wars here are those of the children, the Jewish kids battling other gangs in football (soccer) games that are like combat, and in actual street fights -- magnified, in their imaginations (and in Scliar's words), into all-out war, with tanks and guns (even if in reality they are generally limited to their fists, or globs of excrement). Scliar does not differentiate between fantasy and reality: as in children's minds, they are merged here, and while the pitched battles are of a different order than those on the battlefields of Europe (and there are no comparable casualties the next day), in the moment they seem as extreme and devastating.
       The main character of the book is the boy Joel who leads the other local kids into battle, but The War in Bom Fim is more a collection of episodes that also covers much of the rest of the local scene, describing various other lives and fates from the Jewish community. At times, it can seem more of a story (or anecdote) collection, as Scliar takes up one or another character, quickly describes some events surrounding them, and then is done with them.
       In what becomes an almost feverish surreality Scliar can get carried away by his ideas, too: among the memorable characters and scenes is Rosa, with her vagina dentata. Rosa even gets all her real teeth pulled so that she can seduce men with oral sex in order to "lead them toward normal sex, but woe to the ones who accepted !" (Woe, indeed .....) (She does eventually meet her match, and they settle happily ever after in Palestine.) Rosa has several siblings, including Jacob, who likes to disembowel cats -- which, their doctor suggests, means he'll make an excellent surgeon.
       Scliar tends towards the bloodily farcical, including the disturbing comedy of errors near the conclusion that, as David William Foster's introduction already warns, concludes in: "a horrific act of anti-Semitic anthropophagy."
       In veering between reality and fantasy, Scliar creates a vision that is both hellish and often very funny (if unsettlingly so). The threat of Hitler and the Nazis is distant, yet also omnipresent, weighing heavily on the community. They are not safe, even an ocean away from the actual war, because local attitudes are not so different from the ones in Germany. (There is also a local German community, and there are true Nazis here too (though largely powerless ones, who can only rant and rave).)
       Scliar's scenes of Jewish life from this period is an entertaining and often fascinating one, but he skims across his subject-matter, barely ever taking much time to truly expound on characters or events. The War in Bom Fim is all blur and rush: it is effective, but too much of it is almost casually done with.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 October 2010

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The War in Bom Fim: Reviews: Moacyr Scliar: Other books by Moacyr Scliar under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Brazilian author Moacyr Scliar (1937-2011) was also a physician.

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© 2010-2011 the complete review

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