I bought this book several weeks ago but after far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro was elected president of Brazil last week and I read author Julián Fuks’ powerful response in this Guardian article I felt prompted to prioritize reading his novel “Resistance”. It’s a very meditative story about the narrator’s reflections on his family history – in particular his adopted brother’s troubled life and his parents’ move from Argentina to Brazil after living under a tyrannical dictatorship. It felt ominously prescient when I came to the line “Dictatorships can come back, I know, and I also know that the arbitrariness, the oppressions, the suffering, exist in all kinds of ways, in all kinds of regimes, even when hordes of citizens march biennially to the ballot box”. But, of course, Fuks must have experienced and read about many shifts in leadership over the years to see how frighteningly quickly oppressive political leaderships can take control of a country. So yes, this is a novel about personal and political resistance to these tyrannical governments, but it’s more about a resistance to the categories and interpretations of history which diminish its reality.
The narrator struggles to describe his pressing concerns about his brother without stating this sibling was adopted. He’s anxious that just stating this fact will encourage all sorts of presumptions about why his brother grew into being a certain kind of man. This inner-conflict about giving details is echoed throughout the novel where the narrator questions both his memory and the meaning such information has in truly understanding the past and his family’s situation. It’s an anxiety I really understand and can relate to because of the way creating narratives necessarily means taking a certain slant on the past and it can impose limitations. This is especially true in families when a child or relative is defined in family stories as being a certain type of person. It perpetuates a certain understanding of them and can become a self-perpetuating thing which inhibits the freedom of an individual. The same is true when looking at the history of a country or a community of people who have lived through certain events. The narrator is just as reticent to define his parents’ political affiliations and the events which led to their defection from Argentina. This makes a compelling conflict that runs throughout the novel where the author not only questions the truth about the past, but about how it’s related.
Barely any names are used throughout the book and I think the narrator abstains from using them because of this same reason of not wanting to limit or define his family members. However, one character who is named is Martha Brea, a colleague of his mother's who is abruptly taken away in a car, executed and her body isn’t found until many years later. The narrator describes how “her absence lived in our house, and her absence lives in infinite circles around other unknown houses – the absences of many Marthas, different in their unrecovered remains, in their distorted features, in their silent ruins.” The novel describes the way many families experienced personal loss because of people who were “disappeared” for political reasons and the development of the famous movement by the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo to recover children stolen under Argentine dictatorship. It’s powerful how the narrator considers the way his parents would have undoubtably been lost as well if they hadn’t taken the step to flee the country.
“Resistance” was a very different novel from what I was expecting but I was glad to be surprised by its deep thoughtfulness and philosophical quest to question the way we define family and history. Although the circumstances described are quite specific, Fuks’ unique methodology means the story takes on a much more universal meaning as the reader reflects on their own family and country. It certainly prompted me to rethink how I consider my own. In the coming years we’ll hopefully see many more strong Brazilian voices like Julián Fuks being heard and published as the country lives through this difficult period of time.