ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2012
issue/numero: # 04



Repression and Resistance


Author | Autor: Sandra Reimão


Translated by Juliet Attwater

Two censored books:
Feliz ano novo [Happy New Year] and Zero

On Friday 17 December 1976, an order by the Justice Minister Armando Falcão
was printed in the Diário Oficial da União:


“Proc MJ-74.310-76 – Under the terms of paragraph 8 of article 158 of
the Federal Constitution and article 3 of Decree no. 1077 of 26 January
1970, I hereby ban the publication and circulation throughout national
territory of the book “Feliz ano novo” by Rubem Fonseca, published by
Editora Artenova S.A., Rio de Janeiro and hereby declare that all copies
for sale are to be seized due to its amoral and anti-social material.
Report to the DPF. Published. Brasilia, 15 November 1976.”


The censorship of Feliz Ano Novo came just a month after the censorship of
Ignácio de Loyola Brandão’s Zero. Feliz Ano Novo and Zero were two of several
books published in 1975 and 1976 that became references for the period.
Due to a number of factors in the 1970s, one of which was the fact that a
literary book was less reliant on state investment and could remain under the radar
of censorship, literature was a focal point and was involved “significantly in the
cultural debate of the times”.1
In this sense the artistic cultural field in the Brazil of the 1970s was articulated
very differently from the 1960s, which had previously been the most representative
decade for cultural production, when according to Roberto Schwarz in his article
“Cultura e política – 1964-1969”,2 it was the “public performances, theatre, posters,
popular music, film and journalism, that transformed the climate into a festive rally,
while literature took a back seat”. However, in the 1970s, this trend changed and
literature began “through language to express (…) the meaningful symptoms of a
lively debate within the cultural field”. 3
The group of literary texts published in the mid 70s was the decade’s second
wave of narrative fiction. Érico Veríssimo’s Acidente em Antares, and Antonio
Callado’s Bar Dom Juan both from 1971, were the front-runners of the first wave
which followed on the heels of Institutional Act no. 5. This first wave had clear
connections with the stirrings of possible social revolution in Brazil.

Feliz Ano Novo

Feliz Ano Novo was published in 1975 by Editora Artenova, a Rio de Janeiro
publishing house founded by Álvaro Pacheco in 1963. By the mid 1970s Artenova
was publishing around 15 new titles a month and by the end of 1976 Feliz Ano Novo
had sold 12,000 copies and was the 5th bestselling novel in Brazil that year.
Brazilian literature had a strong presence in the mid 70s; the best seller of 1975
was Chico Buarque de Holanda’s Fazenda Modelo, and in partnership with Paulo
Pontes, Chico was also the author of the bestselling book of 1976 – Gota d’agua – the
script of the play that was being staged at the time. According to the cover blurb on
the first edition of Fazenda Modelo, Chico Buarque used humour and irony to “give
us an allegorical farming novel, a book that amuses, irritates, inspires and consoles”;
and in their introduction to the first edition of Gota d’agua, the authors describe “the
capitalist experience that is taking root here (..) the brutal concentration of wealth”.
The national literature of the 1970s, and particularly of the middle of the decade,
was a product of the times and played a central role in the resistance. As the writer
Júlio Martins said of the period: “The function of cultural production and in particular
literature at the time was mainly to protect our creative integrity and our dignity that
was under threat”.4
Feliz ano novo was Rubem Fonseca’s 5th publication. Since his first book, Os
Prisioneiros, published by Codecri in 1963, the theme of violence had been central to
his literary production. Similarly to his other books, Feliz Ano Novo was a collection
of 15 relatively short stories which totalled 144 pages. The graphic design was basic
– a simple cover, no foreword and a conventional layout. Rubem Fonseca was a law
graduate and had worked for the police at the start of his career, and his literature
depicts the violence and barbarism of the city of Rio de Janeiro. The fact Fonseca
had been a police officer meant he was more qualified than most to note the surge
of violence in the city centres.
The eponymous story of the volume “Feliz Ano Novo”, portrays three social
pariahs, three misfits, watching the end of year celebrations on television, and
“waiting for the dawn so they can eat the macumba food offerings” in a tenement
in Rio de Janeiro’s Zona Sul. Almost as a second thought, they end up armed, and
invading a New Year’s Eve party being held in an upper-class house – “we heard
the sound of carnival music, but not many folks singing. We put our stockings over
our heads; I cut the eye holes out with some scissors. We went in through the front
door”. The extreme violence they use when they shoot four of the guests shows a
chilling disregard for their victims and for life.
According to José Antonio Pasta5, in Rubem Fonseca’s work “the perspective
is a confrontation with a way of life that has no revolution in sight, no radical
transformation in sight; it is a collision with a new kind of Brazilian reality”.
In Fonseca’s work, this new Brazilian reality is, according to Pasta, found
alongside a transformation in the perceptions of the Brazilian people: “Fonseca’s
work, and in particular Feliz Ano Novo, marks an historical moment in the Brazilian
people’s view of the world. The Brazilians who appear in his literature, from humble
backgrounds, are shown as ignominious and ignoble. The writer looks at how petty
criminality is transformed into serious crime; where crime is committed for crime’s
sake, and delight is taken in pay-back and social revenge; he looks at what is now
more commonly referred to as the disintegration of society”.
Another element of Feliz Ano Novo that Pasta draws attention to is that in the
collection as a whole there is also an “ignobility of the elite, although it does not take
up most of the book it is still a strong presence (..) there are three stories that are
examples of this: “Nau Catrineta” and “Passeio Notuno I & II” ”. “Nau Catrineta” begins
with the declamation of an extract from the poem of same name by the Portuguese
writer Almeida Garret. Almeida Garrett based his poem on a popular tale that
describes how an angel saved a captain in a boat that was adrift. In the short story
this tale is transformed into an act of cannibalism: so that the sailors did not starve,
some were killed to be eaten by those who remained. Rubem Fonseca’s story centres
on the twenty-first birthday of José, the heir of a wealthy family. On this day, in order
to be able to take his place in “society” he must eat human flesh. This will make him the
new leader of the family, a family whose members, so goes the story, were proud of
being “responsible and conscientious carnivores. Both in Portugal as well as in Brazil”.
With the same level of violence, disregard for life, and gratuitous acts, the
stories “Passeio Noturno I & II” describe how a Jaguar driving executive uses the act
of running over (and killing) as a form of relaxation.
In the story “Feliz Ano Novo” itself, in parallel with the gratuitous and crazed
violence of the thugs and their ring-leader Pereba, the assaulted and murdered
bourgeois - the pretentious and petulant guests of the New Year’s party - also
behave irresponsibly and senselessly.
On the subject of violence in Rubem Fonseca’s work, Alfredo Bosi says:
“Rubem Fonseca’s brutalist narrative is the image of the chaos and agony of
values that technology gives rise to in a third-world country (...). The language in this
world is fast, sometimes compulsive; impure, if not obscene; straight to the point,
guttural; dissonant, verging on a din”.6

Zero
Violence is also a central theme of Ignácio de Loyola Brandão’s novel Zero,
subtitled a ‘prehistoric romance’. The first edition of Zero in Brazil was published
by Editora Brasilia/Rio on 31 July 1975, but prior to this, it had been published in Italy
in 1974 by Editora Feltrinelli. Editora Brasilia/Rio was a small publishing firm from Rio
de Janeiro owned by Lygia Jobim. The book’s success led to a second edition from
the same publisher.
Recalling the episode, Ignácio de Loyola Brandão says:

“Zero had been published in Italy by Feltrinelli and this had repercussions in
Brazil because Veja did a big article on it written by Silvio Lanceloti who talked
about a Brazilian book that had been published there: a first edition in Italian was
unusual for the times. (...) When the book came out and attracted a certain amount
of attention I was visited by Lygia Jobim. I didn’t know her or have the faintest idea
who it was that was asking me if I was interested in publishing the book here, but I
said yes of course, I had written the book to be published here.”7

Zero is made up of a collection of small stories and fragments, and its graphic
presentation is also fragmentary. Loyola Brandão comments on the origin of many of
these fragments: “Zero was also born of censorship. I was secretary at the newspaper
(...) and I threw the first banned things I wrote into the drawer (...) everything in it is
real and is Brazil, and then I reckoned I could make it into a novel”.
Analysing the fragmentary nature of the novel’s narrative, Heloise Buarque de
Hollanda and Marcos Augusto Gonçalves comment:

“From the outset, Zero is an allegory of the violated and shattered state of
a country still awaiting its history (...) the use of fragments and the approach to
the graphic space of the book, which here and there is set out like a newspaper,
ruptures one’s naturalist perspective of a newspaper. (...) Thus the fragmentary
technique here translates the disintegration produced by the climate of oppression
that courses through Loyola’s narrative at all times”.8

The censorship acts      
In November and December 1976 respectively, Zero and Feliz Ano Novo were
censored by the Justice Department.
In order to understand how the seizure of published works in circulation in
bookshops throughout the country took place, one should understand that in the
majority of cases the censorship was a reaction to a complaint.
Zero and Feliz Ano Novo were both censored because of this kind of action.
In the case of Zero, there was no intermediary hearing, just a direct order. Loyola
Brandão recalls:

“I have some vague ideas; one is that it seems that in an article on something
else, the newspaper Opinião suggested that Zero was a book that depicted the
dictatorship and the military. This was then read by the wife of a general who
(...) then commented ‘look, there’s a book here that on top of everything else is
pornographic’, and told a woman who was friends with the wife of Armando Falcão,
who then complained to her husband.”

Loyola goes on:

“One November afternoon Mino Carta called me from Brasilia and said (...) Zero
is on top of Armando Falcão’s desk. Zero is going to be banned. There’s no other
reason for Zero being on top of Falcão’s desk. The next day it was censored. So I
went off to find the censor. He asked me what the book was and said ‘I’ll go and
check. (...) If it’s moral censorship you don’t need to worry. Don’t print any more, and
keep your mouth shut. Keep a low profile’. The next day he called me (...) the case
against Zero is moral, and so I asked ‘what do I do now?’ ‘Keep your head down
and don’t do anything’. ‘But is the book going to be seized?’ ‘If they tried to seize
everything they wouldn’t have a chance, they don’t have enough people for that.
The books will stay in the bookshops.”

Loyola explains that the censorship was always allegedly for moral reasons so
as to be able to justify the censorship act Decree 1077 that prohibited the publication
and permitted seizure of works considered “amoral and anti-social”.
The same thing happened with Feliz Ano Novo, through a series of coincidences.
In his book Bastidores da Censura, Deonísio da Silva cites Lygia Fagundes Telles in
the Jornal do Brasil (19/01/1977), where she describes an imaginary scene in which
the father of a student reading a book by Rubem Fonseca takes the book and idly
flicks through a few pages. However, it happens that the father in question,
“is a close friend of a minister. Notified by the father, the minister tells a member
of staff to read said book. The staff member and the minister are horrified and the
book is banned. But Feliz Ano Novo is not simply one more book banned by the
minister. And Rubem Fonseca is a well-respected writer and a director of Light9.
Brought to his attention again, the minister decides to read the book himself. He
receives it with passages highlighted in red. He is scandalised yet again, and can now
justify the prohibition”.

According to Deonísio da Silva, Lygia Fagundes Telles ended the tale by
confirming the existence of a small group that boasted of its power to “ban the
books it dislikes without considering their artistic qualities”.10


Feliz Ano Novo and Zero, and their censorship, are prime examples of the state
of the world of books and literary fiction in Brazil in the mid 1970s.
Firstly, the comparisons of the narrative forms and literary propositions of these
two books exemplify the diversity of literary models produced in the period.
Secondly, the sales’ figures for both books (in under a year Feliz Ano Novo sold
30,000 copies and Zero had two editions and sold around 6,000 copies11) may also be
seen as signs of the strength and influence of Brazilian fiction writers at the time.
Finally, just as the literature of the time and later studies posited12, it is clear that
the processes that resulted in the censorship of Feliz Ano Novo and Zero came about
through chance denunciations by people who felt they had the right to ban books they
did not like – and that this was common-place.



In the second half of the 1970s, writers, publishers, intellectuals, artists, scientists,
teachers, and society in general began to mobilize themselves to resist and protest
against the petty demands and impositions of the authoritarian regime.
This resistance from society to the Government’s authoritarian acts culminated in
several demonstrations and public stands against authoritarianism. Of particular note
among the manifestations for cultural freedom was the Manifesto by 1046 intellectuals
against censorship, delivered on 25 January 1977 to the Minister of Justice in Brasilia,
by a commission composed of Helio Silva, Lygia Fagundes Telles, Nélida Pinõn and
Jefferson Ribeiro de Andrade.


In 1979, after the AI-5 had finally been revoked, a third edition of Zero was published
by Editora Codecri.
Rubem Fonseca took the Department of Justice to court for the censorship of Feliz
Ano Novo and the ban on his book was only lifted much later, at the end of the trial
(this trial is the central theme of Deonísio da Silva’s book, Nos bastidores da censura.
Sexualidade, literatura e repressão pós-64).
Zero has now had over 10 editions in Portuguese, and at present (2013) is published
by Editora Global. It has been translated into German, Korean, Spanish, Hungarian and
English. Feliz Ano Novo is currently in its 10th edition, published by Companhia das
Letras, and new editions are being planned by Editora Agir.


1. H. B. de Hollanda & M. A. Gonçalves. “Política e literatura: a ficção da realidade brasileira”. In Heloisa
Buarque de Hollanda, Marcos Augusto Gonçalves & Filho Armando Freitas. Anos 70. Vol. 2-literatura, p. 98
(see also p.113). The new edition of this book was published in 2005, by Editora Aeroplano and Senac Rio.
2. Roberto Schwarz. “Cultura e política 1964-1969” in Pai de Família e outros estudos, p. 80.
3. Heloisa Buarque de Hollanda & Marcos Augusto Gonçalves. Op. cit.,.10.
4. Heloisa Buarque de Holanda & Marcos Augusto Gonçalves. Op. cit., pp. 68 e 70.
5. In interview with Sandra Reimão and Helena Bonito C. Pereira on 11/07/2006.
6. Alfredo Bosi (org.). O conto brasileiro contemporâneo, p. 18.
7. Interviews with Sandra Reimão and Helena Bonito C.Pereira in September 2006 and May 2007.
8. Hollanda, Heloisa Buarque de & Gonçalves, Marcos Augusto. Op. cit., p.61.
9. At the time Light was the state-owned electricity supplier.
10. Deonísio da Silva. Nos bastidores da censura, pp. 37 & 38
11. Information for Feliz Ano Novo taken from Hallewell, Op. cit., p. 591 and information for Zero was
provided by the author in interviews given to Sandra Reimão and Helena Bonito C. Pereira in September
2006 and May 2007.
12. Deonísio da Silva. Nos bastidores da censura. Sexualidade, literatura e repressão pós-64,and Carlos
Fico, “‘Prezada Censura’: cartas ao regime militar”.





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