<preform>Budapest, by Chico Buarque </br>Black Waltz, by Patr&iacute;cia Melo</preform>

Latin America's new literary powerhouse
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The Independent Culture

British readers are waking up to the new literary treasures of Brazil, largely assisted by Liz Calder's growing list at Bloomsbury. Launched by the thrilling noir-ish novel Turbulence, from the country's leading singer-songwriter and pop icon, Chico Buarque, the list was expanded last year by Tropical Truth: the intimate autobiography of another musical rebel and idol, Caetano Veloso.

British readers are waking up to the new literary treasures of Brazil, largely assisted by Liz Calder's growing list at Bloomsbury. Launched by the thrilling noir-ish novel Turbulence, from the country's leading singer-songwriter and pop icon, Chico Buarque, the list was expanded last year by Tropical Truth: the intimate autobiography of another musical rebel and idol, Caetano Veloso.

Yet the word from Brazil is spreading more slowly than the music, currently intoxicating UK club and concert audiences. For decades, Latin American literature has been synonymous abroad with writing in Spanish. Now, it's time to open the windows on to Brazilian works translated from the Portuguese.

For the literate minority in Brazil, novels offer access to environments not physically available to them. Hence the success of Patrícia Melo's new-wave thrillers which, like the film City of God, document lives on their doorsteps known only through news reports and conversations with maids, drivers and other employees. Melo's cinematic stories are played out through sensitive portraits from the social web surrounding the drug barons. She balances familiar negatives - violence, degradation, death and nihilism - with less publicised passions: music, dancing, loyalty, and the surprising social benefits (sewage systems, roads) provided by the drugs industry.

Melo and Buarque both expose insular worlds within the tourist landscapes of São Paulo and Rio. Both - particularly Buarque - also concentrate on internal landscapes. In their new books, each also shifts location.

Budapest (translated by Alison Entrekin) is a magnificent, ambitious project, the mature consequence of Buarque's previous titles. Blue-skied Rio is portrayed in black and white, and his characters' graininess dispels all the familiar sensuality. In moving the narrator between Rio and Budapest, Buarque builds a brilliantly symmetrical design, incorporating two cities, two languages, two love affairs, and two halves of his hero's life as a ghost writer (who shares the author's fascination with language). Buarque's writing here has the alluring, poetic quality of a dream described aloud.

While Buarque moves continents, for Black Waltz (translated by Clifford E Landers), Melo shifts classes - and neighbourhoods. From favela life, she now focuses on the international classical music circuit, and a conductor obsessively jealous of his Jewish wife, a violinist.

This time the maid has an observer's role while her employer, the violinist, is central. The book is also a critique of Europe's moribund classical-music world, and the archaic, inflated status of conductors. The hero's disastrous inability to cope with his non-Jewishness, which fuels the jealousy, is an unusual reversal of the outsider role.

If there is any doubt about the quality, originality or accessibility of Brazilian literature, these books are marvellously persuasive advocates. "What is really sexy about Brazil," as Liz Calder says, "is the literature."

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