Chico Buarque - Budapest
What an Italian reading the English translation of a book written in Portuguese and by a Brazilian author pretending to be the ghost writer of a German guy and dedicated to the study of the Hungarian language is up to?
No, it's not a joke.
Writing a few impressions on Budapest by Chico Buarque.
Sorry there is no punchline here.
This novel caught me by surprise. Of course I knew that Mr Buarque has talent, being considered one of the finest interpreters of bossanova today. A man, this Chico, who gets a high consideration in a country - Brazil - where another successful musician like Gilberto Gil spent five years playing the minister of Culture (and did some good things).
And yet, I didn't know Buarque as a novelist. To tell you the truth, the only Brazilian writer name I remember by heart is the sepia pictured, pointy bearded Machado De Asis although I have never read anything by him.
Let's talk about Chico and his Budapest.
This is a very clever novel written in a very personal style and I'm glad I picked up this book pretty much by choice in one of my usual Saturday expeditions scouring the second hand bookshops.
An unusual novel, yes, but nonetheless related to other things I read in the past combining the traveler's introspection of Nooteboom with the magical literary realism of Borges in a plot that reminded me the Ringmaster's Daughter by Gaarder.
Whereas Gaarder wrote about a guy getting his living by selling to famous novelists beginnings and whole first chapters of stories to develop in successful books, Buarque's Josè Costa is a ghost writer or - as he puts it - "an anonymous writer".
Quiet. Be quiet. José Costa is not the kind of man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask and thinking about blowing up the parliament in Brasilia at the frenzy chimes of Bat Macumba by the Os Mutantes. And José Costa is neither a hacker, or the supporter of some Brazilian Pirate Party asking for the freedom from copyright and crying against Sopa.
In fact, José he's quite the opposite. And yet the copyright and royalties play a key note and a key role in his daily life of anonymous ghost writer. He gets the money without showing his face. He's happy, he's content of standing in the shadow while his associate Alvaro works on enlarging the portfolio of politicians, bishops, professors interested in having Josè writing their public speeches and essays.
Then, José Costa spends one night in Budapest on his way back from an anonymous writers world congress in Istanbul.
From that moment on his own identity will be divided into the anonymous ghost writer José Costa in Rio de Janeiro and the wandering Zsoze (surname) Kòsta (name) in Budapest.
And now I will say no more.
For this is a novel open to more than a single interpretation and the almost impossible meeting of a Brazilian mind with the Hungarian mentality.
Those who spent many hours of their lives studying on their own unusual half-forgotten languages for the sake of it (I did it), will find in Budapest a book to enshrine.