BOOK REVIEW / Mean streaks of Rio: 'Turbulence' - Chico Buarque; trs Peter Bush: Bloomsbury, 13.99 pounds

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The Independent Culture
IT COMES AS no surprise to learn that Chico Buarque experimented long and successfully with other forms of creative endeavour before embarking, in his late forties, on this, his first novel.

This is not to decry his skill as a writer: Turbulence is a nightmarish tour de force. But the knowledge that the author has been, for instance, one of Brazil's foremost composers and perfomers of contemporary jazz suggests an intriguing cross-fertilisation of creative technique in a narrative as unpredictable as a sustained passage of jazz improvisation.

Turbulence is set in a city that seems to be Rio de Janeiro. The action describes the spirited wanderings of the hero around the city in which unpredictable violence and inexplicable menace are key features of the landscape. He moves between fragments of his past life and disjointed episodes of the present in a landscape haunted by characters whose behaviour reflects his own sense of fear.

The hero has slipped from the affluent world of his childhood but still enters it when he visits his sister and his mother. But he feels so alienated that the smoothly pampered milieu of the rich seems as dangerous as the overtly threatening world of the poor.

His inner state and the external world intermingle in his problematic perception of reality: he visits his ex-wife, his sister and his mother - or perhaps not. He goes to a farm where he was happy as a child only to encounter a dislocated and menacing world. He steals his sister's jewels and is beaten up and stabbed, or possibly only imagines it.

The external world is seen in fragments: actions, smells and physical details that crowd across the blurred boundary of the exterior and the interior world. Is the man at the door real or a long, paranoid imagining? Is the crime his sister describes the same one the hero committed? Though the sense of fear and apprehension that pervades the book comes as much from inside as from without, the city is nevertheless present in its mythic richness, its parade of violence and death, its brutal officials and its nervewracking unpredictability.

Buarque began his career as an architect, then worked in avant-garde theatre before turning to jazz. When Turbulence was published in Brazil, it met with respectful reviews but little expectation that such an abstruse text would achieve popular success. In fact the novel sold over 130,000 copies in Brazil and has since been translated into nine languages. For Buarque, whose earlier career included several years of exile under Brazil's long military rule, it is an extraordinary beginning to the writing career that he always believed he would have.