Thursday, April 2, 2009

A Samba for Sherlock

I'm reading the first novel by the Brazilian author Jô Soares called A Samba for Sherlock (the original title was O Xangô de Baker Street - a "Xangô" is an African spirit, and also the title of one of Villa-Lobos's greatest songs). The book, published in 1998, is an amusing pastiche that takes place in Rio de Janeiro in the year 1886 (one year before Villa-Lobos was born). The main characters are the Brazilian Emperor Dom Pedro, the great detective Sherlock Holmes, his companion Dr. Watson, and the world's greatest (and most beautiful) actress, Sarah Bernhardt [pictured below in a photo from the Wikimedia Commons].

As a Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson fan, I'm really enjoying this very amusing book (though both Englishmen are pretty mercilessly lampooned). The best part, though, is getting a feel for what it was like to be in Rio de Janeiro in the period.

One of the early highlights in the book was the appearance of the great Brazilian feminist and composer Chiquinha Gonzaga. She was born early enough to fight against slavery in Brazil (it was abolished in 1888), but lived long enough (1935) to be a major influence, friend and mentor to Villa-Lobos. She makes a strong impression in Soares' book. I'm waiting to see if Heitor's father Raul Villa-Lobos makes an appearance - he was a minor intellectual who worked at the National Library and got into some problems over national politics.

You might have some trouble tracking this book down. It's available new & used from some Amazon sellers in both the original hardcover and the Vintage paperback.

I'll update this post when I finish the book.

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