The Five Seasons of Love

Steven F. Butterman

Steven F. Butterman (2011): The Five Seasons of Love, Review: Literature and Arts of the Americas, 44:2, 319-321

Jo√£o Almino
Translated by Elizabeth Jackson
Austin, TX: Host Publications, 2008
Steven F. Butterman

Jo√£o Almino’s The Five Seasons of Love courageously portrays the physical, albeit imaginary, trope of Bras√≠lia as a site of transformation in every sense of the word. The Five Seasons of Love is a novel where characters embark on transitions that transcend the prison of the past to arrive at new beginnings and personal renewal. Through these pages, the reader is treated to the dynamics of transformative movement on all levels humanly possible: the geographic, the societal, the political, the psychological, the emotional, the spiritual, and even the sexual. This is a novel that movingly and compellingly illustrates a theory of the ”trans” in formation.

Clearly, Jo√£o Almino’s third novel in his brilliant trilogy about Bras√≠lia is also about love in its various manifestations: love of Bras√≠lia itself, the love among partners morphing into friendship at best or apathy at worst, love of the complex multiplicity and layering of characters as they are introduced and developed throughout the course of the narrative, even the love of the comfort of skepticism, and a dormant love longing for regeneration.

It is no accident that Almino’s longest chapter is his first: ”Adventures of Solitude.” For the novel’s narrator-protagonist, Ana, a middle-aged, retired university professor, solitude isolates her from love yet forms a necessary space to stimulate self-knowledge. Almino skillfully portrays a ”feminine” solitude, if such a universal emotion can possibly be gendered, owing a debt to the intimist existential reflections of one of Brazil’s greatest novelists, Clarice Lispector. Out of Ana’s solitude come transformative philosophical constructs constantly under revision.

In this meta-textual universe, the creative process itself, the invention and usefulness (or uselessness, as it were) of language, of words, becomes a character as central as Ana or the city with which she maintains a conflicted love-hate relationship. An obsessively anguished search for words results in cynicism, monotony and loneliness, but also in selfdestruction and rebirth.

The remaining chapters are devoted to articulating love as a lived experience from the perspective of an intellectual, self-conscious narrator.

The second chapter, ”Love, That Word,” resonates with both a critical questioning of the ideals of love and the jaded, rather Machadian pessimism that such intense examination inevitably produces. Chapter Three, ”Love’s Labyrinths,” is a clear articulation of the contradictions inherent in love that changes and in loving other characters who change, thus plunging the main character into flux, experiencing the mutability of love: an ex-husband, with whom love has clearly turned to hate; a dear friend whose sexual reassignment surgery causes doubts about how to love the re-born friend in her new identity; explicitly erotic love that awakens new feelings in Ana, but not without the internalized struggle of relentlessly critical self-examination before moving toward any sense of sexual liberation.

Chapter Four’s ”Suicidal Passions” oscillates between treatment of the erotic impulse as self-destructive and the restorative effects that erotic love has in nurturing Ana’s cultivation of self-love, intersecting with a newfound sensation of love. It is unclear whether Chapter Five, ”The Last Season of Love,” moves the reader into the dead of winter or to rejoice in the spring of regeneration. Self-destruction and rebirth, while seemingly at opposite ends of the philosophical pendulum, are both refreshingly and tragically dependent on each other for their existence.

Nevertheless, Ana is far more complex a character than such a schematic description might suggest. Almino beautifully sustains the transformation motif throughout the entire novel. Most explicitly, Norberto’s transition to Berta, a male-to-female transgender character, plays a fundamental role in Ana’s own psychosocial development. While it does not happen often, the moments where Ana gives life to her alter ego, Diana, are among the most poignant in the novel, and are given their full development only at the story’s end. The narrator-protagonist reflects on this relationship: ”Diana guides me. She loosens my tied tongue, releases my speech in the ink of this anxious pen. She is determined, arbitrary. She hates silence. She lives in the noise of the world, the opposite of me.” As if she were the victim of multiple personality disorder or, more likely, nurturing a Pessoa-like heteronym, Ana’s existential journey only bears fruit when she is ultimately able to reconcile Diana with Ana. Almino’s choice of name is brilliant. Semiotically, (Di)Ana denotes the idea of dyad, dichotomy, even duality. An enthusiastic reader may go so far as to associate the ”Di” of ”Diana” with the verb ”to die.” Metaphorically, for the character’s psychological transformation to take place, Ana must die for her existence to be penetrated by Diana, rescuing her former self from a futile and mediocre existence.

Steven F. Butterman, Associate Professor of Portuguese and Director of the Portuguese Language Program, teaches at the University of Miami, where he is also Director of the Women’s and Gender Studies Program. He has published extensively on contemporary Luso-Brazilian literary and cultural production, with an emphasis on gender and queer studies.

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