My first library card
Here was my first official document in Brazil. A library card. A small thing, really. Nonetheless, it gave me a finger-hold on normalcy in this mental terrain still trembling with the aftershocks of my relocation. I drifted among the stacks, comforting myself with the familiar patterns of books on shelves, familiar titles newly alien in their Portuguese translations.
My mind boggled at the options in this tiny, one-room library. How to know where to start? A well-intentioned librarian had organized by it all by author’s last name, and I was unable to find a genre or a category to guide me. I wandered like a child in a dessert buffet, drawn by decorative covers or a title that I knew I would like, stacking book after book in a pile, unable to put down any of them and yet likewise unable to resist the next appetizing choice.
Sometimes the books, they choose you
Luckily sometimes the books, they choose you.
I picked up a collection of short stories: Crônicas. I didn’t know what it meant. The text looked like my reading level, the cover was colorful and fun. I liked that I could get to know many authors in one book.
My partner peeked over my shoulder, and said, “Yes, you’ll enjoy that one.” He didn’t explain why, and the book was a finalist in my stack. And so it all began.
What is a Crônica?
What is a crônica, exactly? It’s a popular genre of Brazilian literature. Essentially they’re short stories, but are written in a particular, informal style.
I got curious later and googled it. One website described it as such:
“The crônica is a genre related to the idea of time and consists of a description of the details of daily life…. The origins of the word crônica are greek, from chronos (time), and it is for this reason that its contemporary nature characterizes this type of text . The crônica can be classified in various ways: lyrical, in which the author tells a story with nostalgia and sentimentalism; comedic, in which the author jokes with and about daily life; the crônica-essay, in which the cronist, ironically, offers a critique about what is happening within the social-political realm; philosphical, with reflections about an incident or event; and journalistic, which describes the details of news or events that can be criminal, political, sporting, etc.” (Source, Marina Cabral, Portuguese Literature and Language Specialist, translated from the original Portuguese)
Crônicas changed my first days in Brazil
As a reader ignorant of the culture behind them and too new to Portuguese to digest the very literary introduction, these were just short stories, often humorous, charmingly descriptive of daily life and its interactions. I read them out loud to myself, to my partner, to the larcenous farm cat that had adopted us. I chuckled at the jokes, savored the beautiful simplicity of the writing, marveled at the authors’ talent to render a rich storyline within three pages.
By the time I finished the book (four renewals later), I finally understood enough Portuguese to decipher the introduction. There I found this jewel of a description:
“[The crônica] has no pretension of durability, now that it is the child of the newspaper and the era of the machine, where everything happens so quickly. This ephemeral publication was not designed to be included in a book, instead it is bought one day and used the next to shine a pair of shoes or scrub the kitchen floor.” (my translation from the original Portuguese)
Where are the crônicas today?
As newspapers recede on the literary horizon, crônicas are a dying art form. They delighted audiences in the days that newspapers were a thing to savor and an editorial didn’t have to have a key argument it could just entertain. Today, you do not see crônicas in Brazilian newspapers or magazines. They are only found in library collections, stale and collecting dust between bindings. Their authors are probably mostly deceased and rolling in their graves to see the work that they churned out for a deadline now immortalized for the scrutiny of endless future generations.
As far as short stories go, I find crônicas unique and in some ways very similar in format to the blog. Short in length, dense in content, written to entertain the reader, meant to breathe life into a context and then fade from memory. Perhaps they are not dead, merely renamed; resurrected by a new audience and set of authors unaware of their legacy.
Reinventing the Crônica
“I hope you are keeping a journal” many said to me as I packed my bags. However, how does one share a journal? Once you have filled them, they sit on shelves, pile in boxes, too precious to discard, too filled with endless angst and curiosities, hanging participles and thoughts half-finished unworthy of being re-read start to finish.
Crônicas, however. Now that’s a challenge, a product. These are mine–fleeting, contemporary, for me to find a way to describe my world and my experiences. For now, in English. Perhaps someday I will write one in their native Portuguese.
I hope you enjoy.