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For books never formerly published

Rio de Janeiro publisher uses creativity to recover works forgotten in the past

While publishers jostle to try to discover a new title, Anna Paula Martins, from Rio de Janeiro, prefers to look to the collection in her bookstore, which sells second hand books in Leblon, in Rio de Janeiro, specialized in rare works, to discover what she is going to publish next. This thinking for the future with the eyes on the past gives the burden for the name, both of the bookstore and of her publishing house, Dantes [Of old], born in 1997 and now with 17 titles in its catalog, many of them texts forgotten in the past, which she has been revealing to a growing legion of loyal readers. “Here, the ideas arise at the counter, in contact with the public and in researching into our collection, which has over 10,000 books and magazines”, says Anna.

The publishing house started well, with the publication, for the first time in book form, of a forgotten manuscript by Lima Barreto, O subterrâneo do morro do castelo [The underground of castle hill], which the publisher tracked down in the National Library, inspired by an interview with Francisco de Assis Barbosa which quoted the text, written in 1905 and taken to the readers of the Correio da Manhã [Morning Post] newspaper in a series of articles. To keep the columnistic spirit if the original, Anna opted for a cover with pulp fiction characteristics, a find at the same time creative and desacralizing of the literary work as well. “Books were not written to stay still on a pedestal”, she believes.

Barreto marked the debut of the Babel collection, a Borgian nickname that rescues books and authors of an erotic, sensationalist, or underground style. Like, for example, Fogo nas entranhas [Fire in the innards], by Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar, written in 1981, with a ludicrous print run of a thousand copies. The novel, bringing together personages like Diana, the untamed, Lupe, peace and love, Mara, the cynic, amongst others, is today one of the publishing house’s hits, with over 18,000 copies sold.

“The anguish of having and old book without seeing it published again is great, but before choosing what to publish, I always thinks whether that book still has something to say to the present day. If there is no dialog, the text is of no interest”, Anna Paula observes.The publishing work at Dantes is thus a question of passion to be consumed. The publishing house does not have a full time group of people, and Anna Paula calls a group of professionals for each book, to take care of the various aspects of the creation of a new book, with a very special care in the graphic design of each new launch.

“People do not always understand what we are doing, but Dantes has a history, and we do not want to go into the market game and lose this power of experimenting”, she explains. “I think that the market is not very creative, and many publishers believe that the solution for conquering the narrow market is to find, at any cost, a best-seller, buying it at an international book fair”, she reckons. “This makes publishing something like a game of poker. If they were more daring, they would get richer and more interesting results for themselves and for the readers: everybody would come out winning.”

Scandalous tale
And interest is something not lacking in the choice of titles at Dantes. Such as, for example, A mulher carioca aos 22 anos [The carioca woman at the age of 22], by João de Minas (a pseudonym of Ariosto Palombo), a scandalous tale written in 1934, whose parallels with the texts of Nelson Rodrigues enchants readers and critics. After all, right in the first chapter, the heroine, 18 years old, is deflowered with a mechanical apparatus, and the rest of the novel is no less piquant. The poor Angelica keeps company with types like Dr. Eusébio Cortes, “a director of the A Honra Nacional [The National Honor] newspaper, a barrel of social vomit”, or Sebastião, owner of an equinely developed genesic organ”.

Equally polemic is Memórias de um ex-morfinómano [Memories of a former morphine addict], by Reporter X, actually, Portuguese journalist Reinaldo Ferreira, a report in the first person about his dive into the vice, or, in his words, into his intoxication by alkaloids. It is not all scandals, though. In Seis problemas para don Isidro Parodi [Six problems for D. Isidro Parodi], we have a police novel written by two hands and one pseudonym (H. Bustos Domecq), by no one less than Jorge Luis Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares, written in 1942 and never translated before in Brazil.

Equally charming is Praia de Ipanema [Ipanema Beach], by Théo Filho, with a preface by Ruy Castro, a romanced story, published in 1927, about a project for transforming the carioca beach into a Miami, full of casinos and hotels. One detail: Anna had to put an advert in the papers to try to discover descendants of Théo Filho, as the book had practically lost itself in time and in the bookstore.

As one does not only live in the past, Dantes also has a collection, called Sebastião, which carries out a review of present-day Rio, from the southern district to the west, with texts by Nei Lopes, DJ Malborough, and Regina Casé, and others, in 15 books that set out to take care of the several regional differences of the marvelous city. In the meantime, Babel does not stop: on its way is Um noivo a duas noivas [One bridegroom for two brides], by Joaquim Manuel de Macedo, and Mistérios [Mysteries], a gathering of police tales written in alternation for a newspaper by Coelho Neto and Viriato Correia, amongst others. Each day, one writer would add his word, altering at will the story created by his colleague in the previous edition. It is the past entertaining us today: looking to what there was formerly brings the pleasure of the present.