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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


The Sad End
of Policarpo Quaresma

Lima Barreto

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To purchase The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma

Title: The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma
Author: Lima Barreto
Genre: Novel
Written: 1915 (Eng. 2014)
Length: 231 pages
Original in: Portuguese
Availability: The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma - US
The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma - UK
The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma - Canada
The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma - India
Sous la bannière étoilée de la Croix du Sud - France
Das traurige Ende des Policarpo Quaresma - Deutschland
Policarpo Quaresma - Italia
  • Portuguese title: Triste Fim de Policarpo Quaresma
  • Translated and with Notes by Mark Carlyon
  • With an Introduction by Lilia Moritz Schwarcz

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Our Assessment:

B+ : sometimes too obviously polemical, but does a lot well and quickly

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 23/1/2001 Max Grosse
The Guardian . 15/7/2014 Nicholas Lezard
NZZ . 3/1/2002 Thomas Sträter
Die Zeit . 25/10/2001 Benedikt Erenz

  From the Reviews:
  • "Aber Lima Barreto macht aus einem gescheiterten Leben, das viele seiner eigenen Enttäuschungen aufbewahrt, gelungene Literatur. (...) Die Welt der vorletzten Jahrhundertwende erweist sich in der Verbindung von brutalstmöglicher Faktengläubigkeit und bürokratischem Organisationswahn, von Sentimentalität und Gewaltbereitschaft als schon sehr modern." - Max Grosse, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Even though we are an ocean and a century away, we get a proper sense of what Brazil's problems were -- and may, in some ways, still be." - Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

  • "Es ist ein seltsam anrührendes Buch wie wenige, das die leidvolle Geschichte erzählt, wie Humanität durch eine falsch verstandene Nationalität in Grausamkeit umschlägt. Der Romantitel zielt zu kurz, denn nicht nur das Ende des Policarpo Quaresma ist ein trauriges, vielmehr ist sein ganzes Leben ein erbärmliches. Es ist ein zum verzweifelt Lachen melancholisch-wahnhafter Roman, in dem die Menschen und ihre Schicksale allesamt von einer unausweichlichen Fatalität durchdrungen sind." - Thomas Sträter, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Und doch gelingt es ihm, seinen Policarpo Quaresma aus der historischen Kulisse heraustreten zu lassen. Auf der Bühne Rios (...) erscheint nicht der hasserfüllte, pöbelhafte Chauvinist, der uns aus dem grottendummen deutschen 19. Jahrhundert durch Gestalten wie Arndt, Jahn oder Treitschke nur zu vertraut ist, sondern ein rührender Weltverbesserer, ein zum Lexikanoniker konvertierter Enzyklopädist -- eine nahezu klassische Figur aus der Puppenkiste Flauberts oder der Silhouettengalerie Saltykows." - Benedikt Erenz, Die Zeit

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:

       One pretty much knows going in where The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma is going -- that title is a dead giveaway. Nevertheless, the protagonist's struggles and Lima Barreto's critique of Brazil -- the actual subject of the novel -- make for a richer picture than the outlined course of decline and (repeated) failure might have led one to expect.
       Policarpo Quaresma is, above all else, a patriot, his love of country: "the powerful sentiment that guided his life" -- a patriotism that is, as patriotism inevitably is, far from objective, seeing everything Brazilian as superior merely because it is Brazilian and everything foreign as not measuring up. A civil servant bursting with fervor, he's reached the stage where:

The conviction he had always had that Brazil was the leading country in the world, and his great love for his homeland, could no longer be suppressed and drove him to contemplate great undertakings.
       Even his friends and neighbors find he takes things a bit far, with even his sister, Adelaide, complaining:
     It's an obsession with your friend, Sr. Ricardo, this business of only wanting Brazilian things. And the stuff we have to eat ! Ugh !
       Among his idées fixe is that Brazil should move away from the borrowed language, Portuguese, and instead (re)turn to the truly local Tupi-Guaraní, "the only one capable of expressing the beauties of Brazil, putting us in tune with our nature". A petition to that effect that he writes up is ridiculed, and then a slip at his workplace involving his dedication to learning and spreading the language leads to his dismissal, the first big blow that marks his sad end.
       Policarpo is devastated, and it takes him a while to recover from no longer being a servant of the state that he has always wanted to help realize its full glory. Only when he sets his sights on a new project, a new way to help the country forward, does he brighten up again. He buys a farm, certain that since the country is blessed with the best soil and the best climate he will be able to demonstrate what an agricultural powerhouse Brazil could be. True, the neighborhood remains impoverished -- but only because the locals won't work together to reap the possible bounties, he suspects. He'll show them .....
       Of course, his grand plans are undone here as well -- both by: "an intelligent, organized society that was both persistent and daring" (not humans, of course, but rather colonies of ants) as well as the local bureaucracy, which undermines his efforts when he refuses to participate in the local political games and maneuverings.
       Moving on, Policarpo is then convinced to do his patriotic duty and joining the: "patriotic battalion 'Southern Cross'", to fight off yet another rebellion against the government. With his pince-nez glasses he's not well-suited to either laboring in the fields or fighting on the front, and of course this too all goes south. Not that combat, for the most part, resembled traditional warfare -- indeed:
     As time passed, the revolt became a festivity, a public entertainment for the city. When a bombardment was announced on a Monday, the promenade of the Passeio Passeio Público would be crowded.
       Even in victory, Policarpo emerges the loser. A fighter for ideals, he has no place in dealings with a government that is solely self-interested. His fate is preordained, as it is much too late that he comes to understand:
     The fatherland he had wanted was a myth, a fantasy he had invented in the silence of his study.
       Policarpo had been warned early on: "Brazil presents so many obstacles ...". The determined idealist argued: "there's no obstacle that can't be overcome", but deeply entrenched interests prove him very wrong.
       If The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma is mainly an attack on Brazilian politics and the (dis)organization of society holding the country back from realizing its potential -- those ants a force of nature showing what truly organized and selfless society can accomplish -- Lima Barreto also manages to address other issues, both amusingly and poignantly, making the novel more multi-dimensional.
       Anti-intellectualism is repeatedly comically addressed. For example, there are those who find Policarpo suspect because he reads so much: "He didn't have a degree. Why get involved with books ?" someone wonders. Books are just for scholars, is the thinking. And there's the doctor who marries Policarpo's goddaughter, Olga, who can't see his way through the books she reads: "Goncourt, Anatole France, Daudet, Maupassant [...] they sent him to sleep just like the medical books". Determined to give the appearance of a serious reader, he needs to find a way of staying awake over a book's pages -- so:
He ordered some stories by Paul de Kock with altered titles on the spine and so avoided falling asleep.
       Lima Barreto doesn't put blind faith in learning either: Policarpo's faith in science and hard data is used to good comic effect as well, as in his careful use of hygrometer, barometer, and other devices -- despite (or because of) which ...:
every forecast Quaresma made based on combining the data was wrong. When he predicted fine weather it rained; when he predicted rain it stayed dry.
       Notable, too, is Lima Barreto's criticism of the institution of marriage. Neither Policarpo nor his sister are married, and the woman closest to Policarpo, his goddaughter Olga, is deeply disappointed by the marriage she enters into. It is a step that society expects or even demands, especially from women, but Lima Barreto presents these expectations as unrealistic and oppressive. He makes a strong, sad case in describing the consequences for one girl of Policarpo's acquaintance whose second-rate fiancé abandons her, driving the girl to madness (a descent he presents very well, right down to the awful image of its end).
       With an Introduction by Lilia Moritz Schwarcz, and extensive endnotes from translator Mark Carlyon, this is a novel of its times and circumstances, dealing with local historical and political events from both a century ago and earlier; much of the specific detail remains obscure to the modern reader. Nevertheless, many of Lima Barreto's points, criticism, and observations are general enough to make for an easy to relate to story. While its satire isn't of Voltairean sharpness, there's quite a bit Lima Barreto does exceptionally well, including his treatment of the societal pressures on women to marry. An honest love of Brazil that also shows keen awareness of much that ails the nation -- at that time and, to some extent, still -- also makes it an invaluable novel of that nation. In most respects, it is also a novel that has held up very well and it remains a rewarding and entertaining read even in our times.

- M.A.Orthofer, 16 January 2015

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The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Brazilian author Afonso Henriques de Lima Barreto lived 1881 to 1922.

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© 2015 the complete review

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