Tag Archive: Brazilien literature

(Trigger/Content warning: Suicide and depression).

Even if it is perhaps a banal and cliché statement, it still feels right to say that Lygia Bojunga’s ”My friend the painter” is one of the bravest books I have ever read. It takes one of the most taboo and stigmatizing subjects in our society – suicide – and manages to not only capture the grief, loss and confusion that one feels when a loved one has killed themselves, but also depicts the act of suicide in a complex manner, with a voice of honesty, compassion and melancholia. Despite being a middle grade level novel, I would highly recommended this book for all ages. No matter the age, the reader will assuredly get much from this novel.

The story is about 10-year old Sergio, who, in the first chapter, tells the reader about his neighbor and friend, whom he only refers to as the painter. He talks about how the painter educated him in art, and how they in bygone times would play chess together. The chapter ends with Sergio telling the reader that he must now use the past tense, since he won´t be doing anything with his friend anymore. His friend has just died by his own hand.


The book is entirely from Sergio’s point of view, and therefore the reader is mercifully spared the details of the death and discovery of the body. Instead the book explores Sergio’s resolute search for answers, most prominently to the desperately haunting question: ”why did my friend choose to die?”. The adults around him try their best to shield him at all cost; the painters girlfriend lies and claims that it was an accident, Sergio’s parents blurt out that the reason for the tragedy is that the painter was sick in the head. All the adults of the novel are in a circuit to avoid and ignore Sergio’s confrontations and questions. Sergio feels at a loss, since he feels like the adults don´t take him seriously and never answer any of his questions. To add insult to injury, when Sergio tries to talk about his grief to his child friends, they are too caught up in their own worlds to sympathize. The situation of the grieving child is messy, to say the least.


In these scenes, Bojunga captures the heartbreak, confusion and hopelessness that comes with the loss of a friend, while showcasing how the adults around Sergio seem too scared or judgmental to even talk about the life that has passed. Especially, when it comes to Sergio as child, the adults are reluctant to explain or discuss anything with him, despite the fact that Sergio was close to the painter, and is seeking a means to understand the death and his own grieving. The perspective of an overlooked child is a common theme in Bojunga´s authorship, and here it´s used to illustrate not only the condescending view of children, but also the stigma of suicide. The tragedy that has taken place is so taboo that the adults try to shield the boy from everything regarding it, even if it only makes the grieving process that more difficult.


How the novel deals with suicide itself is brilliant as well. Numerous aspects of the painters life is dealt with before his death- his past with being politically persecuted brought about by a critique of the former dictatorship in Brazil, his girlfriend’s withdrawal of support during this oppressive time, his continuous struggles with depression (it is implied that this may be clinical depression, but is gone unnoticed by others), and his difficulty making it as an artist. In real life, why people attempt suicide ranges from a plethora of divergent reasons, from struggles with mental health through loneliness to economic problems. It can also be a case of many of these causes overlapping, and becoming a state unbearable to the bearer of these emotional burdens. Often times, when the suicide attempt becomes fatal, the ones left behind never really find out why the person they knew chose this deadly direction. This is the case with Sergio; he wonders if it was the painters despair in his art, or his conflict with his girlfriend, or some other unseen despair, that was the trigger that drove him to kill himself. The adults around speculate (behind Sergio’s back) that it was his mental health issues or could be seen in the light of his past as a political prisoner that lead to the sad and untimely death. As the many buildings toward the horrific event of the death itself, the novel never lets us resolve this penultimate question with any easy or obvious answers. The reality of surrounding the question of suicide is, at the least, so multilayer-ed that we will never fully understand.


“Obbachlosigkeith” by Kata Petricevic

The grief that Sergio feels also captures a painful reality; that of being left with trying to cope after a loved one has killed themselves. The novel doesn´t sugarcoat this experience at all; Sergio’s inner thoughts and process when trying to make sense of everything is as devastating to read about as one can imagine.

My Friend the painter” by Lygia Bojunga is a sad, honest depiction of a complex, important issue. With this book, Bojunga gives a realistic and mature depiction of a tough subject, that speaks with a strong voice whist avoiding the capture of judgment and simplification. Strongly recommended.

Note/Spoiler alert!: If you have not read this book, It is my sincere suggestion that you should read this fine novel first before reading this post. It is a book that´s fantastic with a surpising and well done plot twist.This is also my second post for Child Abuse Awareness Month.

Lygia Bojunga, like Guus Kuijer in my previous post regarding child abuse, has won the Astrid Lingren Memorial Prize. Bojunga was born and lives in Brazil, and received the Alma award in 2004. Her books are petite, as with ”Seis Vezes Lucas” being discussed here, and the novel ”My friend the painter”, barely reaching the length of a hundred pages. Her main motives in her writing is seeking out a strong solidarity with children, and questioning “adult” society . She mixes a stark, harsh realism with the recurrent sense of wonder of childhood, with often clear criticism of a society which forgets and ignores the fragility of the young.


Lygia Bojunga

Aiming to capture the child´s perspective, Bojunga formulates a prose which sounds believable for the young while detailing a story coherent and focused in its intent to interrogate the adult social world. In ”Seis Vezes Lucas” Bojunga delightfully captures just the right tone in the experiences and feelings of the six years old Lucas. His voice, actions, considerations and mannerisms are evocative of childhoods groping, and the young protagonist Lucas stands in the novel as a true personality in his own right. He is more than a the stereotypical little boy, he is an individual.

The form of child mistreatment that Lucas is subjected to is active emotional abuse which consist of belittling, mockery and erasure of personhood, as well as a general neglect. Lucas’s selfish and spiteful father abandons the responsible role of parent and nurturer, turning instead to hostile abuse. The mother enables the horrors meted out to Lucas by the father despite it being clearly destructive for the growing Lucas.


From the very first chapter we are shown the fearful abandonment of the young Lucas by the father for all night soirees. When Lucas confronts his mother about the fears, and terrors that are apart of the long nights alone, pleading to be allowed to accompany his parents for just one night, his fears are causally glossed over in their hurry to leave for the night and the only concern is that the father hates having to wait. The parents then returning very late is however no relief for the anxious Lucas, but another horror as it is filled with a continuous fight due to the father´s constant philandering leading inevitably to the father violently bellowing and belittlement of both the mother and Lucas. Enclosing the young Lucas and the mother as “against him” the father scripts the young Lucas as anything but ”manly”. A tirade continually pointed at the brittle youngster.


Lucas has found some relief from the misery of this abuse in a children´s art class where the frail child has developed a formative crush on the teacher. She teaches Lucas that good art pieces have to express, in some way, the soul of the creator artist. Therefore Lucas begins an exploration of his dismay which results in a tiny mask. Lucas begins an exploration of his heart and fears in the speaking of his very own art.


On his birthday, Lucas ´father goes out and finds a stray dog, and gives it to Lucas as a present. Lucas is instantly enamored with the dog as in the long and forbidding nights of solitude he has often dreamed of a pet to dissipate his loneliness and fears. He and the dog soon become inseparable, and even in her dismissals of the child the mother notes grudgingly how the dogs presence is helping Lucas to become brave and independent. Unfortunately, this turns the father´s irritable focus upon the dog and a grand dislike begins to ferment.

Abusive words hurt

The focus of the dog, and Lucas’s feelings of connection and emotions to the dog, become the beginnings of a tipping point for Lucas in the novel. As the family one day is driving out of town for a short visit, the father suddenly becomes so angry at the dog that he stops the car and forcefully throws the dog out, leaving the beloved dog behind. Lucas enters a state of shock, but a budding distance is created in Lucas from the father and a founding ground is created to give Lucas the possibility of growth.


The second tipping point is when the father begins an affair with Lucas art teacher. While the father has previously mocked Lucas ´artistic interest, he fakes interest later to be able to seduce and begin an affair with Lucas teacher. Lucas ends up witnessing parts of the seduction, that pushes him to verbalize in his mind what he has long denied to himself; his mounting rejections of the verbal violence and abuse embodied in the father.

Lucas grows to the realization that it “is not fun to like daddy anymore”. Due to the fathers belittlement and violent rejections, Lucas has always been pushed forcefully to a distance with his father, but due to the twin betrayals of the father in abandoning the comfort and safe haven of the dog, and then the seduction of his teacher (whom the father knows Lucas´ has a crush on but still goes ahead with the affair anyway), Lucas admits to himself that it is difficult for him to like his own father. This insight of rejection of the cruelty of the father is hard fought in Lucas however, leading to a great load of shame and a wonder by Lucas about his abnormality.


“Lonely child” by Emma Jane Beech

Bojunga masterfully says so much in so little, in a simplicity that is complex. Lucas´ thoughts are of shame for realizing that his father is less than agreeable. However, as it is with many victims of abuse (emotional or any other kind) Lucas feels shame for something that is not his fault. This is due to the taboo of speaking of less than ideal, less than loving families. There´s also the fact that children´s thoughts and emotions are often looked down on, not seen as worth notifying. Lucas is especially been told he is not important, and, due to the father overruling anything Lucas ´says and his mother constantly prioritizing the father over Lucas and herself, Lucas is positioned to reject himself instead of beginning the building of the personality he will become.


The ending is particularly heartbreaking, but yet quite empowering. The mother, tired of the father´s affairs, decides to move away. This delights Lucas, in that he won´t have to be near his father anymore. Unfortunately the mother becomes too fearful of being alone and due to this phobia moves back to her husband after an extremely short separation. Wondering if the affair with the teacher was a precipitation of his mothers leaving, Lucas comes to find a web of lies and deceits his father lives and imposes, along with his aggressions, on all around him. His returning mother is told by the father that he will end his philandering and become a faithful husband, but to the art teacher he has given the impression that he loves her in return and will leave his wife. Gathering his feelings and beliefs finally into himself, Lucas calls his mother out on once again prioritizing the father over him and concludes that adults don´t make such great decisions. As he puts it: ”I thought that you adults knew better”.

This somber ending, tells of a violence and deceit which must be rejected. The constant deceptions and ruthless bullying are shown as unforgivable. The child most certainly does not have to love or like their parent, in this case, and even in doing so circumvents what will make them possible to become as independent adults themselves. Lucas concludes that his parents are neither rational nor kind, and even if he does not state so explicably, Bojunga tells the reader, through Lucas´actions, that he has found it impossible to like his father, and that it is okay to feel this way. Lucas may be too young to change his situation, yet he can still empower himself by knowing that his parents are in the wrong in the way he has been treated. This rejection is the true path to adulthood, and a rational world.


Many adults have noted the dark tones of the book, and have considered it untenable for children. However, I strongly disagree. What this book tells children is necessary and, ultimately, can be comforting. If a child is a victim of emotional abuse, they have a right to be displeased and that love is not a mandatory of anyone. By giving children an option instead of telling them to always blindly love and honor, Bojunga´s work empowers children who are stuck. Bojunga´s novel, ”Seis Vezes Lucas”, tells verbally bullied and neglected children that they have a right to be angry, a right to see the fault – because it is true, if the feeling of liking your parent ”is no longer fun” for a long period of time, that is no shame on the child. Despite its gloom, Seis Vezes Lucas is a powerful, helpful book for children who´s needs are too often not considered. A unique, honest and important masterpiece for children and for adults.