Obituary: Antonio Callado

Hugo Estenssoro
Saturday 01 February 1997 00:02

Always a man of his word, Antonio Callado died, aged 80 and two days, a week after stating that to live beyond 80 was an exaggeration, almost an excess. No wonder one of his friends said once that Callado was the "only real-life English gentleman to write great Brazilian novels".

This elegant, witty, handsome man cultivated a British image as a private and public joke. He worked for the BBC during the Second World War, married a Briton, had the thin moustache of a retired colonel of the shires, and shared his drinking tastes between whisky and well-chosen port vintages. His father, a doctor, had cultivated the French image fashionable in his day. But both were as Brazilian as they come, and Callado created in his fiction what one critic described as "the epitome of the best men of our generation".

This was no small feat, as Callado wrote during a golden age of Brazilian literature. His first novel, Assuncao de Salviano ("The Assumption of Salviano"), was published in 1954, and his last book, O homem cordial e outras histrias ("Men of Feeling and Other Stories"), came out in 1993. In this 40-year period some important works by key Brazilian writers - such as Guimaraes Rosa, Clarice Lispector, Autran Dourado, Lgia Fagundes Telles, Nelida Pinn, Joao Ubaldo Ribeiro, and Rubem Fonseca - were published.

Callado's masterpiece, Quarup (1967), whose title is the name given by Xingu Indians to a death ceremony, was his third novel, and was hailed as a fictional landmark. The story of a priest who finds love and a political conscience amongst the Xingu Indians, it is a Bildungsroman that is at the same time a backstage panoramic view of Brazil's history in a period of crisis. It starts with the suicide of the populist dictator Getlio Vargas in 1954, and closes with the begining of the armed resistance to the 1964 military coup.

For both the Brazilian left and liberation theologians Quarup was a mirror and a signpost. The novel was first drafted in prison by Callado, in a cell shared with the film-maker Glauber Rocha, during the first repressive wave of the military dictatorship in 1965. At that time Callado was a leader writer for Jornal do Brasil, one of the three main national Brazilian dailies. For those of us who read his novels and his limpid, courageous articles, and knew him as a fellow journalist, Callado was one of the great newspapermen of the period and a model to follow. His generosity with young colleagues, and his professional integrity, were legendary.

When a intrepid opponent of the dictatorship, Carlos Heitor Cony - also a distinguished journalist and novelist - was forced to resign from the paper Callado edited, Callado resigned with him in protest. He may have been, as one of his friends said, "the sweetest of radicals", but those of us who rallied to him learned never to give up in dark times.

Callado became a journalist at 20, in 1937, during Vargas' Estado Novo fascistic dictatorship. In 1941 he came to London to work for the BBC's Brazilian Service, and after the Second World War worked in Paris for Radiodiffusion Francaise and as a European correspondent. As a reporter, editor, and leader writer he worked for all the main Brazilian daily newspapers. After retirement in 1975 he devoted himself to literature, but continued to write weekly articles to the last.

His last novel was Memrias de Aldenham House (1989), set in the country house where the BBC language services were located in the 1940s. Not the best of his efforts, it is a political thriller in which he fondly recalls his British experience.

Antonio Callado, writer: born Niteri, Brazil 26 January 1917; married 1943 Jean Watson (deceased), 1977 Ana Arruda; died Rio de Janeiro 28 January 1997.

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