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Spilt Milkby Chico Buarque
Synopses & Reviews
From world-renowned Brazilian writer Chico Buarque comes a stylish, imaginative tale of love, loss, and longing, played out across multiple generations of one Brazilian family. At once jubilant and painfully nostalgic, playful and devastatingly urgent, Spilt Milk cements Chico Buarque's reputation as a masterful storyteller.
As Eulálio Assumpção lies dying in a Brazilian public hospital, his daughter and the attending nurses are treated — whether they like it or not — to his last, rambling monologue. Ribald, hectoring, and occasionally delusional, Eulálio reflects on his past, present, and future — on his privileged, plantation-owning family; his fathers philandering with beautiful French whores; his own half-hearted career as a weapons dealer; the eventual decline of the family fortune; and his passionate courtship of the wife who would later abandon him. As Eulálio wanders the sinuous twists and turns of his own fragmented memories, Buarque conjures up a brilliantly evocative portrait of a mans life and love, set in the broad sweep of vivid Brazilian history.
In Spilt Milk [Buarque] confronts the themes that make Brazil squirm, from the stain of slavery to the inferiority complex the country has historically felt when it compares itself to Europe.” The New York Times
Deft and moving....At its heart is the idea that everything, our very lives, is an illusion, in which we cling most desperately to that which matters least. Class, status, breeding fade away, and we are left with what we least expect....What's most remarkable about the book, though, is not that it somehow manages to internalize more than 100 years of Brazilian history but, rather, the way it also exists almost outside of history, outside of time.” Los Angeles Times
"Buarque, a pillar of the Latin American New Song movement, gives us a fractured, refractive vision from a character seemingly in the foothills of dementia....We find we are in the hands of a master storyteller. It becomes clear why this novel won major literary prizes when first published in Brazil." Cleveland Plain Dealer
Buarque is an elder statesman of bossa nova, and a legend for his subversive opposition to Brazil's brutal military dictatorship...we can think of Spilt Milk as a prose equivalent of a Barnett Newman painting — the irritating outbursts and hallucinations about his crazy daughter end up being the strips that measures, divides, and shapes the sweep of colorful narratives that pours out of Eulálio....Eulálio ends up being an idol, a wraith who, at 150, is not quite dead and not quite living.” The Daily Beast
Buarque is regarded in Brazil as a vital cultural stalwart, an artist who, since the early 60s, continues to examine his country and instill large social change....In the protagonist of Eulálio Assumpção, the 100-year-old descendant of Portuguese invaders and the beneficiary of colonialisms vast harvest, Buarque fashions a grudgingly likeable narrator....Buarque takes his time with Spilt Milk, a book whose real story sits beautifully obscured by Eulálio's skipping incoherence....Spilt Milk is a necessary, often painful examination of not just a mans wounds but also of a country's complicated past.” ZYZZYVA
Lovely details and a fine sense of place....Echoing Sebald's Rings of Saturn....[When] Eulálio talks of meeting his wife...his desire for her is instant and extraordinary....There's plenty to like.” Publishers Weekly
"A brilliant comic monologue by a Brazilian novelist, in which a hospitalized centenarian curmudgeon on morphine becomes entangled in his own deception-filled life story." Shelf Awareness
"Chico Buarque has crossed a chasm with his writing, and arrived at the other side. To the side where one finds work executed with mastery." José Saramago
Buarque writes like a man with a cigarette in one hand and a drink in the other. Shoulders slumped, a wrinkled linen suit; you join him at the bar to hear his wild story.” Los Angeles Times
Spilt Milk is the story of the elderly Eulalio d'Assumpção, who, hospitalized and in a morphine-induced haze, narrates his life story to the nurses who tend to him and whom he occasionally mistakes for the important women in his life. Eulalios stories skip back and forth in time, gradually unfolding a tale of love, loss, and the changing face of Brazil.
Eulalio begins by talking about his privileged youth in Brazil. His father, also named Eulalio, was a conservative senator and wealthy coffee exporter who could trace his lineage to Portuguese nobility. An inveterate womanizer, he takes his young son on frequent trips to Paris to introduce him to cocaine and sex. He also has affairs with the wives of several his aristocratic acquaintances, often under their noses. Eventually, his fortunes fail him — the stock market crash kills his coffee business and his foreign investments, and his name falls into disrepute. When the senator is found shot to death in his bachelor pad, his wife believes the conservative newspapers, which say that he was assassinated by the opposition, though rumors suggest that he was murdered by the husband of one of his mistresses.
At his father's funeral, the teenage Eulalio falls in love with Matilde, a dark-skinned choir girl, seduces her by waiting for her after school every day, and eventually marries her. Though he considers her vulgar and not good enough to spend time in his francophone circles, he is desperately in love with her, and her eventual loss permeates his entire narrative. Matilde's father was a prominent liberal politician, and he disinherits Matilde when they marry, leaving the young couple dependent on an allowance from Eulalio's mother. Eulalio's mother pulls strings to get him his father's old job as an arms trader. He spends time on the beach at Copacabana with a French engineer, who has ostensibly come to demonstrate missiles, but both men have little to do, and their company eventually becomes a laughingstock even in the conservative press. Eventually, Eulalio loses his job. He suspects that the Frenchman is having an affair with Matilde and breaks into his hotel, only to find him with the wife of a physician in their social circle.
Eulalio and Matilde have a daughter named Maria Eulalia, but shortly after her birth, Matilde withdraws and stops feeding the baby, saying her milk has dried up. However, Eulalio later finds her crying and pouring it down the sink. Matildes fate after this is unclear, due to the unreliability of Eulalios memories. She may have become pregnant with another mans child and run away with him, had a mental breakdown, or been hospitalized with tuberculosis. She may have died shortly thereafter, of suicide or accidental drowning or a car wreck, or simply disappeared. Eulalio engraves her name into his parents tomb, though he has no body to bury there, and considers her dead.
Maria Eulalia grows up and marries Amerigo, the wealthy son of an Italian immigrant. They have a son and name him Eulalio, but Amerigo eventually leaves, having bankrupted Eulalio and his daughter with his overspending and gambling habit. Eulalio raises his grandson with his daughter, using his prominent name to send him to a distinguished Catholic school on scholarship. The son eventually becomes a communist and dies at the hands of the authorities, leaving behind a son who was born to a woman who died in prison.
A colonel gives the child to Eulalio, and he and Maria Eulalia plan to raise him in the same way as they raised his father. However, when they attempt to enroll him in Catholic school, he is turned away because he looks too black. The elderly Eulalio assumes his coloring must come from his anonymous mother, pointedly ignoring suggestions that Matilde was part African. Meanwhile, Eulalio and Maria Eulalia move into ever-smaller and more squalid apartments.
Eulalio's great-grandson, also named Eulalio, is a playboy like his antecedents, and has a son with his cousin — a distant relative of Matilde — before also being gunned down. This son, a socialite and probably a drug smuggler, skips out on a loan for which he has listed his great-great-grandfather's apartment as collateral. Finally bankrupted by his descendants, the elderly Eulalio and his daughter move to the slums — the former site of Eulalio's family estate — to live in the annex of a church. Maria Eulalia becomes an evangelical Christian, testifying nightly about her sinful mother. One night, the elderly Eulalio falls and is sent to a rundown local hospital. Eulalio condescends to the mostly-black staff and demands to be sent to a better hospital because of his noble blood, but they laugh at him — he is in fact going to be transferred to the public hospital because he can no longer pay for his stay, and the noble blood” of the Assumpção line is all but forgotten.
About the Author
A two-time winner of the Premio Jabuti, Brazil's most prestigious literary award, Buarque has written acclaimed novels, plays, and poetry, and is a legendary figure in Latin American music. He lives in Rio de Janeiro.
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