Friday, 31 January 2020

Book Review: Industrial Park by Patrícia Galvão
The steadily growing divide between rich and poor isn’t a new phenomenon, or else Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels would never have had reason to write the Communist Manifest and the blood-soaked October Revolution of 1917 might never have massacred the Russian Tsar along with his family to put the idealistic principles of Marxism into practice. During the first decades of the new regime, people worldwide dreamt of following the country’s example unawares of the fact that Lenin, Stalin and their likes turned their egalitarian Soviet utopia into the dystopian oligarchy, even monocracy of totalitarian Bolshevik leaders. Set in the working-class district Brás in São Paulo, Brazil, the proletarian novel Industrial Park by Patrícia Galvão, first published under the pseudonym Mara Lobo in 1933, shows the daily struggles of women who have to cope not just with cutthroat capitalism but also with machismo. The communists among them call for fight…

Patrícia Galvão was born in São João da Boa Vista, Brazil, in June 1910. Fifteen years old and still a student at São Paulo Normal School, she started writing for a newspaper. Following graduation, she became a member of the Movimento Antropofágico in 1928 and collaborated with its magazine using the nickname Pagu given to her by a poet friend. With her husband Oswaldo de Andrade she joined the Brazilian Communist Party and after the first of several arrests in Brazil as well as abroad for her militant Communist activism, she made her debut as a novelist with Industrial Park (Parque industrial: 1933). In 1935, she left her husband and went to prison again, this time for five years. After her release, she turned from Communism to Socialism and became a journalist with the newspaper A Vanguarda Socialista where she worked with her second husband Geraldo Ferraz. Together with him she wrote the novel A Famosa Revista (1945; tr. The Famous Magazine). Having attended the School of Dramatic Art in São Paulo as from 1952, she later dedicated herself to the modern theatre and to translating famous authors into Brazilian Portuguese. Patrícia Galvão died in Santos, Brazil, in December 1962.

In the early 1930s, life is hard for people in the working-class district Brás in São Paulo, Brazil. Slaving away six days a week in the factories, shops and offices of the Industrial Park, they earn scarcely enough to make ends meet. They dream of a better life that is out of reach for most. Eleonora got away from Brás marrying rich Alfredo Rocha who is tired of his bourgeois existence and takes sides with the workers of the neighbourhood. Factory worker Rosinha Lituana attends the reunions of the Communist Party and sometimes her friends Otávia and Corina from a tailor’s shop accompany her. Corina, however, counts on her good looks to provide the escape from poverty. In fact, well-to-do Arnaldo makes love to her, but after she yielded to him, he loses interest. When her pregnancy becomes obvious, her boss fires her and, even worse, her mother and her loathsome stepfather put her on the street. Otávia offers to take her in, Corina only stays for the night, though, and then starts working in a brothel because she needs the money. Her baby is born without skin and she goes to jail for infanticide. Meanwhile, another one of the girls, Matilde, quits work at the factory on her mother’s request to return to school and get the chance for a better job. The growing tensions between workers and employers lead to a general strike. On the streets, workers demonstrate for their rights , but the police fights them back violently killing some. For their political agitation, Rosinha Lituana is expelled to her parents’ country of origin and Otávia is imprisoned…

Although Industrial Park is generally referred to as a proletarian novel, moreover the first of the kind from Brazil, it’s really the social study of a poor working-class environment at the dawn of an economic crisis and a cruel dictatorship. Told from the perspective of an unconcerned observer, it brings to life a cast of chiefly young female characters who have to cope with being discriminated both as common workers and as women. In their actions, behaviour and speech they feel real and authentic most of the time. Only when the one or other of them “preaches” Communist ideology or calls upon her comrades to stand up for their rights, they lose their truthfulness. I could never help the impression that they – and the author herself lending them her voice – just parrot without much conviction the big words thought out by Soviet propagandists to spread class war as means to bring about a Communist World Revolution. Of course, this may well have been the intended effect, but for me it diminished the pleasure of the read considerably. The only rudimentary plot linking a series of scenes from everyday life that illustrate the typical hazards and struggles of hardworking women was a bit disappointing, too. The novel’s sparse prose abounds in dialogue and short, often incomplete sentences reminding of stage instructions that nonetheless create strong images and thus convey powerful atmosphere.

Reading an original Brazilian Portuguese edition of Industrial Park by Patrícia Galvão was an exceedingly great challenge for me, but a translation just never feels the same. In the end, I even enjoyed this proletarian classic although I didn’t care at all for the Communist propaganda it contained. For me it was much more interesting to see how were the lives of poor working-class women in Brazil of the early 1930s, when the Great Depression cast its shadow over an already globalised world and Fascist ideologies spread in response to Soviet-style Bolshevism. Some of the story reminded me of another forgotten classic from the pen of a woman and with Communist overtones also, namely The Metal of the Dead by Concha Espina (»»» read my review) from 1920. Depicting the timeless struggles of the working poor, the latter and Industrial Park by Patrícia Galvão have lost none of their significance.

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