By Sofia Jesus

Dear mom. Sorry for only writing now. I’ve been so busy. Dear mom. Here’s a little money. Dear mom. No SMS or e-mail could speak out as loud as handwritten letters. For they do not have curves pressed stronger under rage nor shadows of coffee drank alone, nor transparency spots made of suicide tears.

Maybe that is why I liked De Mim Já Nem Se Lembra ([He/She] does not even remember me anymore, in a free translation to English) so much. It is a beautiful epistolary novel by Brazilian awarded writer Luiz Ruffato that takes us back to Brazil in the 1970s.

The book tells the story of a young man — José Célio — that leaves his family in Cataguases to look for a better life in Diadema, São Paulo. We, readers, learn about his emotions in this new adventure through the letters he writes to his mother over the course of seven years.

Before the letters, the narrator Luiz — José Célio’s younger brother — tells us about the death of their mother. He also tells us how his brother had died many years before that, in a car accident, on one of his visits to Cataguases. He presents the letters he found after their mother died in hope he could find some peace of mind — over the death of his mother; over the death of his brother; and over how the latter seemed to have moved his mother away from him in sorrow.

In an interview with Globo, when asked about until what point the book is inspired in the story of his own family, the author replies: “All in the book is true, but all in the book is fiction. My brother, my mother and other relatives are quoted with their real names, there is a secondary character with my name, the issues in the brother’s letters are real, the description of the mother’s death is close to what happened with me. But who said the letters exist? I do not guarantee it. All literature, in one way or another, is self-fiction, but I do not like the one that ‘sells itself’ as self-fiction.”

The book speaks of family, love and friendship: of how José Célio worries about his family; of how he falls in love with Nena; of how they break up; of how employers and colleagues turn into family; of how hostel owners keep treating him and other workers as if they were their own children. But the book also offers us a portrait of the Brazilian society in those days. A portrait where we find a generation of hardworking people forced to earn a living away from their loved ones; where we find fear amidst a dictatorship; and where we find workers’ determination in joining forces in labour unions to fight for their rights.

The letters of José Célio denote, here and there, some anger and frustration regarding an unfair society, built upon a huge gap between the rich and the poor. They speak of that stubborn, untranslatable word saudade. And they speak of that restlessness of those who depart only to arrive nowhere. As in January 12, 1975: “… the feeling I take with me is that I will never go back [home]. That is very sad, because here is not my place. But I feel that there is no longer my place [either]. So, I belong to nowhere. And that hurts too much inside.”

De Mim Já Ninguém Se Lembra

Luiz Ruffato

Tinta da China, 2012