Daylight Horror: “Gótico Nordestino” defies the genre’s stereotypes

Interview with the writer Cristhiano Aguiar about his latest book, an anthology of gothic short stories inspired by Brazilian northeastern culture.

Disclaimer: This is the translation of an article originally published at TAB UOL

Born in a practicing protestant family, the writer Cristhiano Aguiar has reached adulthood with the understanding that miracles could and should happen. Since his early years, the frontiers between the empirical world and the supernatural were already porous for this author featured on the anthology “Melhores Escritores Jovens” released by Granta during the 2012 International Literature Fair of Paraty (Flip). After sharing his experience as a northeastern migrant living in the city of São Paulo in his book “Na Outra Margem, O Leviatã” (2018), Cristhiano is back with a book that takes him back to his origins.

Released on February 2nd, the book “Gótico Nordestino” (Northeastern Gothic) was published by Companhia das Letras, under the Alfaguara label. Despite the similarity between the book’s title and Silvia Moreno-Garcia novel “Mexican Gothic” , Cristhiano was already working on his project years before. Still, both books are comparable as they apply the traditions of gothic literature to the Latin American context, also adding some bits of pop culture.

Throughout nine short stories, Cristhiano plays with references from pop culture in several ways. One of the stories is named “Firestarter”, just like Stephen King’s book that was adapted to the movies in 1982. More than that, the writer delights us all with an exquisite and engaging mastery of the Portuguese language as he presents expressions and habits specific to the town of Campina Grande and its region. Born and raised in this city in the state of Paraíba, Cristhiano says that focusing on his own origins was something important to the development of “Gótico Nordestino”.

Since several stories feature social and political commentary, I asked Cristhiano if he considers the tag “post horror” correct to describe his work. The truth is that, more recently, some critics proposed this term perhaps as a means to overcome the stigma that the horror genre acquired during the past years. It is suggested that this new generation of books and movies, such as A24’s, are different from past titles for being more politically engaged — a claim that is incorrect, according to Cristhiano.

Although “Midsommar” is now known as a horror movie that proves it is possible to tell scary stories in the daylight, Cristhiano mentions titles such as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, in which basically the whole narrative happens during the day. Now, when it comes to political and social commentary, movies like “Get Out” or “It Follows” are simply updating a tradition that exists at least since “Frankenstein” (1818). Cristhiano argues that Mary Shelley’s book is completely permeated by social and political metaphors.

However, while Cristhiano tells me that, I remember a professor who, at some opportunity, mentioned that it was impossible to imagine a horror story happening at a Brazilian northeastern beach — that is, a scenario that is completely an outsider to the tropes of the genre. But Cristhiano’s story “A mulher dos pés molhados” (The Woman With Wet Feet) is not only a commentary about the tourism in the region, but also an invitation to deconstruct the stereotype of the sunny Brazilian beach.

Still, this same professor of mine argued that Brazil is an extremely baroque country and this is not just due to Aleijadinho’s sculptures. The term baroque is here employed to describe a country permeated by contrasts, which applies the technique of chiaroscuro in other spaces than visual arts. However, as much as colonization isn’t something only applicable to physical spaces, but also bodies and minds, it is very probable that many of us still associate certain darker genres to European tones or perhaps North American ones.

Nevertheless, Brazil has a gothic (and northeastern) tradition that dates back from the first novel ever released in the country. Cristhiano claims that “Úrsula” (1859), written by the writer Maria Firmina dos Reis, has clear influences from the gothic novels of the 18th century. The same could be said about the first Brazilian science fiction novel, the book “A Rainha do Ignoto” (1899), written by Emília Freitas. What is more, Augusto dos Anjos, who is popularly known as the “poet of death” was a northeastern writer from the state of Paraíba. “He was the first poet with a work that fascinated me and he will always be an influence in everything I write,” shares Cristhiano.

As new speculative subgenres are born to address specific cultural aspects of our country, such as it is the case of amazofuturismo and sertãopunk, “Gótico Nordestino’’ seizes this moment when Brazilian readers are more optimistic and open to national works. Although Cristhiano does not believe that his work inaugurates a genre that could be named as “northeastern gothic”, the book still has enough relevance to inspire new literary waves and subgenres that dedicate their attention to other Brazilian regions and realities.

While Coffin Joe left us with a legacy of horror in cinema, Cristhiano also mentions writers such as Marcio Benjamin, Bruno Ribeiro, João Martins, Frederico Toscano, Oscar Nestares, Paula Febbe, Santiago Nazarian, Daniel Gruber, Antônio Xerxensky, and the collective Recife Assombrado, as ascending names in contemporary Brazilian horror. Besides, the creation of the Tênebra Library, specialized in Brazilian gothic literatures, also stresses the interest of the public in the genre.

Though “Gótico Nordestino” is such a fresh release, Cristhiano shares that he wanted to write a novelette or a novel after dedicating himself for over a decade to the creation of short stories: “There are several ideas that I drafted, but nothing is defined yet. Still, I can assure you that the project will be similar to ‘Gótico Nordestino’ and has keywords like road movie, horror, travel, colonization, magic, war, and passion as the main inspirations.”

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Brazilian journalist, MA in Semiotics and PhD in Visual Arts. Researcher and essayist. Science fiction writer.

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Lidia Zuin

Lidia Zuin

Brazilian journalist, MA in Semiotics and PhD in Visual Arts. Researcher and essayist. Science fiction writer.

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